Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 January 17, 2016
“One Body, Many Gifts”
Text: Ephesians 4:7-16
Last week we heard the Holy Spirit’s plea, through the Apostle Paul, to do our best to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-6). We noted how precious this unity is (Psalm 133:1), and we also noted how strongly Jesus desires this unity (John 17:20-26). Now we come to the rest of what constitutes a single paragraph in the English Standard Version of the Bible, namely, today’s text. We see in today’s text that unity in Christ is displayed in the diversity of gifts given to His people and exercised by them. Let’s look now more closely at this portion of God’s Word.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Note first the Giver of these gifts: Christ Jesus Himself. In particular, note that these gifts do not rise from ourselves in any way. Rather, they flow from Christ’s victory at Calvary. Jesus descended to earth from Heaven to accomplish His atoning ministry, and He ascended once again to Heaven decisively victorious over His foes. Moreover, these gifts from Christ flow in fulfillment of Scripture. In Psalm 68:18, the victorious Lord receives gifts from men. Here, in today’s text, the victorious Lord gives gifts. Let us now note these gifts, and let us note to what ends Jesus gives them.
Some have called the gifts listed in today’s text the office gifts, because those who have the ones that yet remain tend to discharge that work formally within the Church. The first gift here listed is apostle, which was an immediate associate of Jesus during His earthly ministry, plus a few others (Paul, e. g.). Some of them in fact were inspired authors of New Testament books; Paul, Peter, Matthew, and John come quickly to mind. The gift and its corresponding office, thus considered, were ceasing or in fact gone by A. D. 100—and certain Church fathers writing at that time noted the fact.
The second gift here listed is prophet. Prophets, utilizing the God-given prophetic gift, both fore-told future events and forth-told the Word of God. This gift, though apparently yet extant, is much rarer since the first century—and any exercise of this gift must square with the Word of God written: either expressly or by reasonably inference.
The third gift listed, evangelist, have as its chief, if not sole, function the announcement of the Good News of God in Jesus Christ. Evangelists generally work from place to place (i. e., they are itinerant) rather than in settled resident situations. Theirs is to preach, and otherwise to labor, in order that God, by His Spirit, will call their hearers to faith in Christ. For their long-term growth in grace we must seek other gifts.
Yet we seek not long, for the pastors (shepherds in ESV) and teachers fit the bill nicely. Some say these two gifts fit one office, whereas others say these are two distinct offices (teacher being equivalent to, for example, seminary professor). The gifts of pastor and teacher are united in Evangelical Presbyterian Church pastors; ministers in the EPC are referred to at Session, Presbytery, and General Assembly as teaching elders. The pastor, or shepherd, guides his church and the members therein, feeds them upon God’s Word, guards them from false doctrine, from wolves masquerading as sheep and from enemies of every sort, and leads them to the places God has providentially prepared for them. The teacher instructs Christians both in right doctrine and in right Christian practice.
The gift list in today’s text is not the only one; there are three other such lists. In Romans 12:3-8 we find generally the service-type gifts, such as encouragement and mercy. We see in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 the so-called sign gifts, such as miracles, tongues and the interpretation of the same, and the like. In 1 Peter 4:7-11 we see a short list that includes love, speech, and hospitality. In all there appear to be about twenty such gifts, which leads to a marvelous varieties of Christian ministries in turn.
Jesus gives these gifts to certain purposes, or ends. We see three such ends in today’s gifts. First, Jesus gives these gifts to equip Christians for the work of ministry. After all (and despite the view of many), ministerial work not the exclusive purview of the ordained clergy. We each have gifts by which we glorify God and bless others. It is a happy occurrence when we find ourselves used of God to further folks’ walk with Him. Second, Jesus gives these gifts to build up the Body of Christ. These gifts exist neither to tear down the Body of Christ nor to work disunity therein. Rather, they exist to build up Christ’s Church: in worship, service, and affection toward God and toward each other. Third, Jesus gives these gifts to enable Christians to reach maturity in Him. This maturity, of course, stands in contrast to spiritual immaturity—an immaturity characterized by being tossed by the waves of life and of false teaching and by being carried about by every wind of doctrine—many such doctrines being based in cunning, craftiness, and deceit. Hence, we exercise our gifts, and receive the exercise of others, in order to reach Christian maturity.
We each have gifts from God (1 C orinthians 12:7). To say we have none is false modesty at best and contrary to God’s Word at worst. We each have a least one of those twenty-odd spiritual gifts listed in the New Testament. Yet no one has all of them. No one is a total package in himself. This is as it should be, for God has made us for mutual interdependence in the Body of Christ. Recall again that our gifts, and their exercise, glorify God and bless others. We use them to equip other Christians to fulfill their ministries, to build up the Body of Christ, and to foster Christian maturity in believers. Let us exercise our gifts, and receive the exercise of others, that we each, and together at Cornerstone, and with others in the visible Church, may glorify God.