2013-01-13 Christ’s Diversified Body: We Are All Different | Ephesians 4:7-14
The phrase “Body of Christ” is used to collectively describe believers in Christ. Christians are members of the universal body of Christ through identification with Christ through faith. We saw this earlier in Ephesians 3.6 “…through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Jesus Christ is seen as the “head” of the body, which is the church, while the “members” of the body are seen as members of the Church. Verses 1-16 of Ephesians 4 describe three aspects of the body of Christ. In verses 1-6 we saw last week that Christ’s body is unified – we are all the same in various ways. In verses 15-16 next week we will see that Christ’s body is interdependent – we are all dependent in various ways. In verses 7-14 today we will see that Christ’s body is diversified – we are all different in various ways.
In today’s passage we discover the source of our diversity, the immediate purpose of our diversity, and the ultimate purpose of our diversity.
Ephesians 4:7-14 7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until 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, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
The source of our diversity: Christ’s distributing of gifts to his body (7-10)
The source of our diversity – what makes us different – in the body of Christ is the ascended Christ’s manner of distributing various gifts to each member of his body. We learn from this passage that gifts are the ability of each member to perform distinctive services or functions within the body of Christ. That ability is in verse 7a called “grace.” 7a But grace was given to each one of us…”
In verse 7b we are told that gifts are given by Christ and distributed among us as he wills, “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
We find parallel statements in at least two other places in Paul’s writings. In Eph 3:7-8, Paul refers to the special grace given to himself as a minister of the gospel. Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace,… 8 To me…this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” In Rom 12:5-6 we are told that, not only Paul has received this special grace but also we who are individually members of the body of Christ, “hav[e] gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…” So not only the most eminent of believers like Paul, but all believers have received gifts and they are distributed among us according to the will of Christ. That is, each individual member of the Body of Christ has received a gift and those gifts differ among us in measure and kind from one another.
That the ascended Christ has given gifts to his body is amplified and confirmed in verses 8-10. By quoting Psalm 68:18 Paul tells us that because the ascended Christ has accomplished a victory over his enemies, he has received, as it were, the spoils or rewards of victory and has given those spoils to his own people. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”
Paul goes on to explain that Christ won this victory by means of his life, death, resurrection and ascension. “ 9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens.”
Most conservative commentators agree that this verse does not refer to Christ’s descent into hell after his death, but more simply to his descent to earth by means of the incarnation which was followed by his ascent back to heaven after his resurrection. The time of his humiliation – his descent to earth – was followed by his glorification – his ascension to heaven.
And the purpose of his descending and ascending, that is, the purpose of his humiliation and glorification – was to fill the entire universe – both heaven and earth – with his presence. Verse 10b says, “that he might fill all things.” In this context, it means that he is able to supply his church with everything necessary to cause the growth of his body until it matches his own fullness. (FF Bruce, 345).
Why do we have different gifts among us? It is first because that is Christ’s design for his body, that each one might receive a different portion of what he has won through his victory over his enemies by means of his sacrificial life, death, resurrection and ascension.
The immediate purpose of our diversity: the equipping of Christ’s body for ministry (11-12)
The second reason given here for the various gifts among us is Christ’s immediate purpose for some of these gifts, which is the equipping of his body for ministry. We are different from one another because Christ has gifted some people for the equipping of his body. Notice those listed are primarily teaching or word gifts. 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers 12 to (pros – for) equip the saints.
The main verb “he gave” points back again to Christ. He is the one who equips his body through those he gifts to do so. Here is one of several lists of gifts found in the New Testament. These are the gifts – or the persons whom Christ has gifted – whose role is the equipping of the body of Christ.
First among those gifted to equip the saints are apostles and prophets, which, most Reformed commentators agree, refers primarily to those early New Testament apostles and prophets who walked with Christ or his immediate disciples and who gave us the text of the New Testament which is our rule of life and faith. Theirs was the authoritative ministry of Christ handed down immediately from him and continued by them in the first century. Without them, we would not have recorded the words and works of Jesus himself found in the Gospels and Acts or the interpretation of his words found in the Epistles which guided both the early church and the church through the ages. Their teaching ministry is therefore primary. Some groups of true believers accept that there are modern apostles and prophets, but most define their roles differently from the apostles and prophets of the first century and rightly claim for modern apostles and prophets a level of authority beneath those of the first century.
Second among those gifted to equip the saints are evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their role is the equipping of the saints in their own day.
Evangelists are those who have a special gift of communicating the gospel to unbelievers and thus bringing them into the kingdom, the first step in equipping the saints.
Pastors are those gifted and appointed to oversee or shepherd part of Christ’s flock, especially by feeding it – that is, by teaching.
Teachers are those gifted to effectively communicate the Word of God especially to believers.
Some commentators consider pastoring and teaching to be the same gift. I agree that there is certainly some overlap since those who are pastors must be able to teach at least at some level in order to guide their people in the ways of the Lord. For example, ruling elders who share the responsibility for shepherding the flock in the Presbyterian and Reformed churches must also be “able to teach” according to the Book of Order.
However, there are some who are gifted teachers who clearly do not have the gift of pastoring. They are able to teach very well, but do not have a gift for watching out for the personal needs of the people. These are often rightly found serving the body of Christ in seminaries or Christian colleges or in itinerant ministries. So I tend to believe these are separate gifts that overlap in some people.
Notice again that the gift of teaching is emphasized in this list. Paul’s point seems to be that without the writers of the NT, and without those who are gifted to clearly communicate the gospel to the church, the effective equipping of the saints cannot take place.
But the body of Christ is not made up only of those gifted for the equipping of the saints, it consists also of those in the body who are gifted for the works of service which build up the body of Christ. In verse 12b we are told that the purpose of equipping the saints is that they would engage in 12b for (eis – into) the work of ministry, for (eis – into) building up the body of Christ,
The work of ministry or service (diakonia), which builds up or edifies the entire body is a second part of Christ’s immediate purpose of our diversity. Christ desires that his body grow and remain healthy and strong and vibrant. Therefore he has given other gifts – in addition to the teaching gifts – that help to bring this about. Drawing from other gift lists in the NT, we could include the gifts of mercy, leading, helps, knowledge, exhortation, wisdom, giving and others. All these work together to keep the body healthy and strong and lively.
Christ has gifted us differently from one another because it takes a variety of gifts to keep the body of Christ healthy and strong. The point is that each of you has at least one gift to use in service to the body of Christ, whether a teaching type of gift or a serving type of gift. Your immediate aim should be to use it to edify, to build up the other members of the body for the common good. Your responsibility is to discover and to exercise the gift you have been given by Christ for the well-being and strengthening of his body. For those who are not sure what gift you might have, we will be offering a Christian Education class on this subject in a few weeks. We will help you discover what gift you have and in what ministry you might use it. Watch the bulletin for dates.
If Christ is the source of our gifts, and Christ’s immediate purpose through the various gifts is the building up of his body, then finally Christ’s ultimate purpose through the gifts is the maturing of his body into his own likeness.
The ultimate purpose of our diversity: the maturing of Christ’s body into His likeness (13-14)
Verse 13 says, 13 until 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,
Christ is the head of the body, the head of the church. His ultimate goal for his body is that we corporately become like him, the head. Spiritual maturity or Christlikeness is not merely and individual effort. Neither you nor I can realize it on our own. It can only be accomplished in relationship to other members of the body because it has to do with growing in unity with one another. Isn’t it interesting that our diversity contributes to our unity?
How are we to grow in unity? In two ways here: the unity of the faith and the unity of knowledge of the Son of God. Paul’s use of unity last week was something that was given to us by the Spirit that we should maintain. This week unity is something we should attain, something to be sought after and achieved together: unity with one another in both faith and knowledge.
“Faith” here refers to the theological content of the gospel. It is the same faith that is found in Jude 3, “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.”
“Knowledge of the Son of God” here refers to experiential knowledge of Christ gained as we seek to live in conformity to the Scriptures as Paul writes in Phil. 3:10 “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.”
These two represent what we might call head knowledge and heart knowledge of Christ. Head knowledge is the intellectual content about Christ found in Scripture that we seek to gain and to maintain clearly in our minds untainted by the latest fads and heresies. Heart knowledge is the experiential content of life, what we learn of Christ through sharing in the sufferings and joys he appoints for us in our daily lives. This is Christ’s ultimate purpose or goal for his body, that we might grow more and more in unity and so together become more and more like Christ, not merely individually, but especially corporately. That is more difficult, but is Christ’s highest aim for us, that we his corporate body, might become more and more like him our head.
The result of this unity when we attain it is greater corporate stability. Verse 14 says, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
No longer will we be merely individual Christians who are like children, immature and unstable: easily tossed and carried by the winds and waves of false teachings and schemes of men. Together, as a body of many members, united in mind and heart, we are like Christ, fully-grown, mature, stable, im-movable, like many ships safely lashed together, able to weather any storm.
So let us embrace the diversity of gifts among us because it is Christ’s design for his body. And let us discover and utilize those gifts he has given us both to equip and to build up his body on earth. And let us, working together, use our various gifts to attain the unity of faith and knowledge, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.