Study # 4
Ephesians 4:1-16 describes the first way that disciples are called to live, “in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” The first way to walk in a manner worthy is to live in unity. Verses 1-6 stress unity of the church by emphasizing the common blessings that all disciples share. Verses 7-16 still point to unity, but a shift occurs stressing the diversity of gifts given to disciples. However, even the variations of gifts are for the purposes of attaining unity and maturity within the church.
Ephesians 4:7-16, which begins with “But grace was given to each one of us” (v. 7) and ends with “when each part is working properly” (v. 16), is subdivided into two units. Verses 4:7-10 states that a diverse range of ministry functions is graciously given to the members of the body. Each member receives a gift, but each member’s gift differs from that which is given to other members. Verses 4:11-16 explains how the operation of the diverse range of ministry functions, is to operate for the promotion of unity and maturity.
The wording changes in verse 7 signaling the shift from commonalities to diversities: “But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” The statement that Christ has given gifts, which is expressed in verse 7, is the main idea in verses 7-10. The shift is from the mutual features of saving grace that all disciples experience to the different features of serving grace that each disciple experiences distinctively. Each disciple is given a gift from Christ that is unique from that which He gives to every other disciple. There is something in common: all disciples receive a gift from Christ. However, the distinctive is that disciples receive different gifts. All disciples are graciously called into salvation. That calling includes participation in the Body of Christ as well as engagement in particular ministry functions within the church.
The purpose of the calling to serve the church, which will be further developed in verses 11-16, is for rendering service that contributes to the maturing unifying whole. Christ gives gifts to His people so that the Body of Christ might be built up (see also 1 Corinthians 12:7). But what is the nature of these gifts? The common assumption is that these gifts are special abilities. However, while this has become the prevalent notion, the gifts that Christ dispenses to His people are not special abilities, per se, but ministry functions or assignments or roles. The Biblical term gift should not be seen as a special gift, for that definition of the term did not exist at the time of the New Testament. Today, the term gift has two main meanings: a) a thing given willingly to someone without payment; a present; or b) a natural ability or talent; a giftedness. The notion of the giftedness as a possible meaning for the term gift is a relatively new use of the term.
A closer look at any of the gift passages (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4) shows that the term gift as ministry tasks better fits their contexts. While the notion of gift as a ministry task certainly implies enablement from the Lord, it is the task taken up and not enablement behind the task that is the focus. For instance, the usage of gift in Ephesians 4:7 is linked to Ephesians 3. Paul uses the term to talk about the ministry he was to perform. “For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you…Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:1-2; 7-8).
In chapter 4, Paul uses the same term for gift to talk about the truth that every disciple is given a ministry assignment. The emphasis in verses 11-16 is not a search for one’s special ability, but for one operating in their ministry assignment. Grace tasks people to be: “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (v. 11) so as to prepare members to do “the work of ministry” (v. 12). As “each part is working properly” (v. 16), the church attains “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood” (v. 13). The issue is not disciples somehow deciphering what special ability they may or may not have. The issue is each disciple fulfilling a ministry assignment or function or role in such a way that the body is built up. The duty is not searching for that elusive area of giftedness; but looking for the oblivious ways that people in the church need building up. As verse 11 shows, when people perform assigned ministry tasks, they, in turn are seen as gifts for they help others. Understanding gift as a ministry assignment turns the matter from individualistic introspective questions of “what special ability do I have?” to community focused questions like “what does the body I belong to need from me so that it is built up?”
Christ successfully completing His work is the basis for Him having gifts to give to His people. Paralleling Philippians 2:5-11, Christ humbly descended to earth completing His mission and has now returned to the heavens in His exalted position. Verse 8 uses Psalm 68:18 in a modified form. Psalm 68, a joyful hymn to the Lord, praises God as the warrior king whose conquest rescues His people. Psalm 68:18 reads: “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men, even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.” But Paul, under the supervision of the Holy Spirit, adjusts verse 18 to read: “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” The change is not problematic. A victorious king takes plunder and shares it. Christ, at His resurrection and in His ascension is the victorious Lord, who is now the King of His church. Psalm 68 looked ahead to the day of Christ’s victory stressing the spoils of war that He would obtain, as he would conquer His enemies. Paul looks at Psalm 68 from the perspective that Christ has already finished His victory and is presently distributing gifts to His people.
Christ is presently at the right hand of God “that he might fill all things” (v. 10). The imagery is reminiscent of Ephesians 1:19-23. God has filled Christ, who is the Head of His church, full and now Christ fills His church full with gifts to His people causing, “the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (16).