Monday, January 21, 2008

Presents for You! (Ephesians 4:7-13)

January 20, 2008
Sermon by: Robert Austell

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Last week we talked about “the Great Gift” of God. In a word, Paul described this great gift as grace. But, he also explained that grace. God sent His Son, Jesus, into the world so that we who were spiritually dead might be made alive, raised up, and seated in Heaven with Christ. God did this because He loves us and in order to show us that He loves us.

Today we are going to focus on verses 11-13 in Ephesians 4. There is more gift-giving from God to us! That very language connects this passage to what we talked about last week. Listen to vv. 7-8:
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore [scripture] says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”
Literally, that reads, “He took captivity captive.” The best commentators I have read say that this is describing his defeat of sin and death. Jesus broke out of their captivity (for they hold humanity captive) and he not only was free, but took sin and death captive, binding their ultimate power over us. This Old Testament quotation, which we read in the Call to Worship, describes the ancient practice of the victorious hero sharing the spoils of war with his army. That is the scenario Paul is setting up for us for the verses that follow.

God’s great gift came at the expense of Jesus’ life and through his victorious defeat of sin and death. God has not only raised us up to life and assured us of a home with Him, but Jesus has also shared gifts with us that result from his victory over our former captors, sin and death.


What Other Gifts? (v. 11)

Look at verse 11. It begins, “And he gave…” What follows is just a sampling of gifts Christ has given. He mentions four in terms of a person or leader in the church. The first three exercised leadership broader than a local church. These included apostles, who were specially appointed heralds of news, in this case, the Apostles of Jesus Christ. Prophets were spokespersons for God, not unlike Apostles, but without the special rank and authority of the Apostles. Evangelists were also messengers, bearing the Gospel message in particular, and often traveling to spread that news. The last two items, pastors and teachers, are probably referring to a person or persons who shepherded a local church. These leaders used both gifts in teaching and caring for their “flock.”

The real point of this passage, however, is not to list and define various leaders in the Church. Rather, it is to talk about the gift of Christ, and specifically gifts that Paul says in verse 7 are for each believer.

Does this mean that every Christian is supposed to have one of these gifts, like we sometimes say about other “gifts of the Spirit?”

No, this passage, at least, is saying something different. Look at two important words – “each” in v. 7 and “some” in v. 11. What it is saying is that God has provided some leaders for the whole Church. Paul makes the same distinction we make when we say that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and the pastor is the earthly shepherd (little ‘s’). God has raised up Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, to lead His Church in these times, and that is how God has given a gift to every Christian.

Really, the focus here is not on these leaders. This is not a sermon to highlight the work of pastors or ask you to see me as a “little Jesus.” It’s what comes next that describes the gift that is for each of you.


Why These Gifts? (v. 12)

In verse 12, Paul explains WHY God raised up some to bear and teach the Good News. There are two reasons:
…for the equipping of the saints for the work of service
…to the building up of the body of Christ
This is the part that is most about you. That’s because YOU are the saints – the holy ones, the ones called out of the world to be the Church. And YOU are the body of Christ, the Church, with Christ as the Head of that body.

These are my primary marching orders as a pastor-teacher, because it describes what God wants to accomplish in you through my ministry here. My job is to equip YOU (the saints) and build YOU up. And it’s specific. I’m not just to equip you with sports equipment, so we can have a good softball team. I’m not to build this up into a mega-church.

I am to equip YOU for the work of service. Service is a biblical word that has multiple layers of meaning. First and foremost, it is worship. It is loving God with all you are and all you have. And worship is work. It started when God put Adam in the Garden to cultivate and keep it, and it continues today. The work of service is also the ministry of love and compassion that is “love of neighbor” and we do that as we get up and get out of the walls of the church and engage the world and neighbors around us. The work of service is joining God in the work He is doing. Chief among what God is doing is seeking and saving the lost.

I am also to build YOU up as the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean grow a humongous church; it means teach you to understand what it means to be part of Christ’s body. Next week, in the subsequent passage, Paul will help us understand that even more. But, my job is to remind you of who you are in Christ, so that you will function more and more like his body. This is like what I said last week. God loves you and wanted to show you He loves you. This is so what is true will become real in your lives. In the same way, it is true that you are already the body of Christ. My job is to teach and exhort and prod and push on you until each of us sees that truth as real in our own lives.

Enough about my job… all that is to say, using last week’s illustration, that God has more under the tree for you than the “great gift.” The great gift would be more than enough, but there is more for you! Today’s text lists two more presents: the opportunity to share with God in the work He is doing in the world and the opportunity to live as part of Christ’s body. [Okay, briefly back to pastors – our job is to help you unwrap those presents!]

In a word – well in two words – these are what “lighthouse” and “searchlight” are all about. It’s about realizing that we are the body of Christ and getting about the work God intends for us. Those are not dreadful duties; they are joy-filled presents from God!


How Long Must We Focus on This? (v. 13)

If you find yourself asking, “How long is he going to harp on this idea,” verse 13 answers that question:
…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
Paul began chapter four talking about unity… one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Unity of the faith is not only theological agreement, but perhaps more importantly, it is unity of vision and purpose, with Christ at the head. This is why Paul keeps using the body imagery for the Church. Even in this last verse he does: we are to attain to “the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” Do you remember being a young teenager as your body started to grow? (You may be there now!) Sometimes your arms and legs would spaz out and head different directions. That’s what the Church is like sometimes. I know, too, in old age the body doesn’t obey us; but that’s not what maturity means here. Maturity is the Greek idea of the fully developed person – body, mind, and spirit. And Paul bends that secular notion to his Christian letter to say that God’s desire is for us – the Church – to grow up and get past the everybody-go-their-own-direction stage so that we can be unified in heart, mind, and purpose… not with me, but with Christ.

God has set the presents before you, in love and to show you are loved. My job is to unwrap the present and excitedly remind you, “This is for you!” God’s invitation to you is to come experience the reality of what He has already declared to be true: in Christ you are alive, raised, seated, loved, called, unified, directed, sent, and blessed. As we shine with the light of Jesus Christ and live into these truths, we will grow up into the Church and the people God wants us to be.

We have worshiped God in Spirit and in Truth. Come, let us respond with confession and thanks, then get up and get out to do the work of service that joins God in His mission to our neighbors and the world.

Talk to someone about Jesus – tell your story. We’re being equipped for that on Wednesday night.

Come ask me about what we are doing in the neighborhood – VBS at Brighton Place this summer; mentoring at Old Providence Elementary School; building relationships with the baseball league families; having a community drama for children.

Come tell me what you would like to do in your neighborhood or the church’s. We’ve begun yoga, girl scouts, water color classes, and more – all with an explicit intent to have Christ at the center and all because some member of this church got excited to participate in God’s work in and around us.

Some presents you get are all for yourself; others are something you share with the whole family. That’s what God has given you and he delights to see you open and use it! Amen.

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