The Lord's Day Morning
April 2, 2006
“To Each One Grace Was Given”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Ephesians 4, as we continue to make our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul to the Christians in Ephesus and to us.
Let me remind you, if you have the outline in front of you, of where we've been — and even if you don't have the outline in front of you, let me remind you of where we've been.
In Ephesians 1-3, we have stressed regularly, the Apostle Paul sets forth God's glorious plan of redemption in His church. He tells us who He is and what He has done on our behalf. He tells us our doctrine, what we are to believe, what is the faith once delivered; and then, in Ephesians 4 beginning in verse 1, he will spend the rest of the book teaching us about our response to that truth, our living out of that truth. The first part of the book is doctrine, the second part of the book is duty — we could put it that way…faith and life.
And we have said as we've worked through the first few verses of Ephesians, in Ephesians 4:1-3, the Apostle Paul is telling us to preserve a unity that God has already given us in Jesus Christ. Notice that Paul is not calling us to achieve a unity that we do not have. He is calling on us to preserve the unity that has been granted to us in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ; that is, in Christ believing Jew and Gentile, believers of various sorts, have all been brought together into one body. Having been united to Jesus Christ, we have been united to one another. That reality of our union and communion with Christ means that there is a reality of our union and communion with one another. It's the glorious doctrine of the communion of the saints.
And the Apostle Paul says ‘I want you to preserve, I want you to maintain, I want you to manifest, I want you to live out that unity that God has given you.’ He's not calling on us to achieve a unity that we don't have, but to preserve and to live out a unity that God has granted to us in Jesus Christ.
Now in verses 4-6, the Apostle Paul grounded that unity that we enjoy not only in the saving work of Jesus Christ but in the very person of our triune God. Our one triune God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; and yet, even in His three-ness He is one. He manifests His unity in relationship, and that is to be manifested in our relationship, and that is what verses 4-6 are about. It talks about the one Spirit that has brought us together in one body. It talks about the one Lord Jesus Christ, into whose lordship we have been baptized. It talks about the one God and Father of us all who has brought us into His one family. And so the Apostle Paul has gone from exhorting us to manifest the unity that He has given us to explaining yet again what the foundation of that unity is.
Now, starting at verse 7 he does something very interesting. He starts talking about our differences. He starts talking about our distinctions. He starts talking about the diversity that exists in the body of Christ. But you will notice he talks about our distinction, our diversity, our differences, in order to serve our unity. In fact, he makes it clear that in the Christian church our very diversity, the diversity of gifts that God has bestowed upon His people, the differences in the people that make up the body of Christ…in our very diversity, our unity is served.
And I want to walk through very briefly…if you have the outline, I've tried to walk you through the passage. One reason we try and outline passages is on the one hand so that you are helped in reading the Bible on your own. A good faithful biblical exposition ought to help a believer read the Bible on his or her own more effectively, so that you’re better equipped to follow the flow of arguments found in Bible books. But also we do this outlining so that you will understand that the preacher isn't just getting up on Sunday morning and talking about whatever he wants to talk about. The preacher's job is to talk with you about what God wants to talk about with you, and the only way the preacher can do that is if he is faithful to follow the chain of argument that God Himself has given in His word. So we work through this passage together for greater understanding, and also that you’re confident that what you’re hearing from the pulpit is in fact what God is saying to His people in His word.
Now notice the outline here. I've done it in seven points, but in verse 7 we see the Apostle Paul saying to us that each one of us has been made the recipient of gifts from the risen and ascended Christ. And then what happens in verses 8-10 is almost an aside. It's almost, having just said that each of us are the recipients of gifts that have been given to us by the risen and ascended Christ, that the Apostle Paul just has to stop and tell you about that just a little bit. It brings to his mind how costly those gifts Jesus has given to His church were to Him. He goes right back to Psalm 68. He says this is just like that triumphant procession of God the King in Psalm 68, who's going up to a city, all the spoils of war entrained behind Him, and He gets to that city and He dispenses gifts to His people out of His great victory. And he says it's the same with the Lord Jesus Christ. He gives gifts to His people out of this great victory He has won over the forces of sin and death and hell.
But then he stops in verse 9 to reflect on Jesus’ humiliation. The way that Jesus obtained that great ascension and enthronement was through the valley of humiliation. He came to the lowest depths of the earth. He emptied Himself, the Apostle Paul will say in Philippians 2, not of His essential attributes but of His glory; bore the shame, even suffering the ignominious death of the cross for our sakes; and through that descent, through that humiliation, He won this great victory, and so ascended on high.
And the Apostle Paul is reminding us in verse 10 that the purpose of Christ's ascension is the completion and fulfillment of the eternal purposes of God. It's a huge, grand, plan. It's not just saving us from the deserved punishment of hell that we would have apart from His atoning work and saving grace, but it's bringing us into a family, a household, a new society, a new community that is part of this glorious restoration of all things in the new heavens and the new earth. And Jesus’ reign is part of the eternal purposes of God.
And then, it's almost like Paul in verse 11 says ‘Now, where was I?’ He just couldn't but stop and tell us how costly these gifts were that the Lord Jesus Christ has given us from the right hand. Then he starts in verse 11 telling us about some of those gifts. And notice that in the naming of different kinds of gifts — apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers — he's reminding us (Paul is) that Jesus doesn't give everyone the same gifts. There are evangelists who are not apostles; there are pastor-teachers who are not prophets. There are different gifts.
And Paul makes the point in verse 12 that even though the gifts are different and they’re given to different people, all of those gifts are given for the building up of the whole body. Isn't it interesting? The focus of verse 7 down to verse 12 has been on “each,” on the individuals, on the differences that are manifest in God's body in the gifts that Christ has given, but each of them is given gifts for all. All the conversation in Ephesians 4:1-6 has been about all or about the whole or about the body; in 7-12 it's about each. It's about the members. It's about the distinctions in the body, but all of those differences are to serve the whole body.
And then he explains in verse 13…and, by the way, we're not even going to try and get to verse 13 today. I just wanted you to see it so that you could see the flow of Paul's logic. He's saying that these things are for the blessing of the whole body, so — what? So that the body will be mature, so that the body will be everything that God has intended it to be, so that we will grow up into the fullness of Christ. And there's that language again that we saw at the end of Ephesians 3: that we would all grow up into the fullness of God. Well, here it is now: so that the body will be matured into the fullness of Christ. That's the flow of argument of the Apostle Paul.
Now let's look to God in prayer and ask His help and blessing as we read His word and hear it proclaimed.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your word. We ask that You teach us wonderful things from Your law, and that by Your Spirit we would not simply wrap our minds around the truth, but that we would be so gripped in the very depths of our hearts that we would believe, desire, and live out this truth. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
“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.’
(Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 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.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul is saying to us in this passage that in the Christian church the unity and well-being of the whole body is served by the diversity of the gifts that Christ has given to each member of the one body; that in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ our preservation of and manifestation of and living out of the unity that God has granted us in Jesus Christ is, in fact, far from being hindered by our diversity, served by our diversity; that the different gifts that exist in the body, that the different types of people that exist in the body, that the different kinds of gifts that Christ has given to His church in people and through people serve the unity of the body, and ought to be celebrated, not apologized for or feared. And I want you to see three things in particular that Paul is concerned that we understand today.
And the first one is simply this, and you see it there in verse 7, that Jesus has given every single one of us gifts. Look at what Paul tells us in verse 7: “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift.” Paul's emphasis is that each has been engifted of Christ. In fact, in verse 11, he’ll almost speak in terms of the total person as a gift to the church. It's an apostle that's a gift to the church, it's a prophet that's a gift to the church, it's an evangelist or a pastor-teacher, so that the totality of who we are, expressed in our vocation, is a gift of Christ to the church.
But as you know, there are more than these listed as gifts of God to the church in the Scriptures. And by the way, isn't it interesting here that these gifts in Ephesians 4 are listed as gifts of Christ? We often talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and rightly so. The New Testament itself talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church. But the New Testament also talks about the gifts of the Father to the church, the gifts of the Son to the church, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church. So notice that even in the very way that the gifts are ascribed in the New Testament we see the unity of the triune God in engifting His people. Well, in this passage it's emphasized that it's Christ pouring out those gifts to His church from His exalted place at the right hand of God.
There are other gifts that are listed in the New Testament. If you have your Bible ready to hand, turn to Romans 12 to see one example. Paul here will say, in Romans 12:4,
“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same functions, we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. And since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let each exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
And again, there you see Paul speaking almost in vocational terms about the gifts of God to His church — people who lead, people who serve, people who show mercy, people who exhort, people who minister, people who prophesy. He speaks almost in vocational terms.
But then he gets even more specific. Notice verse 9:
“Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer….”
and so on, almost to the point as if Paul is saying it's a blessing and gift of Christ to the church that there will be people who rejoice in hope and persevere in tribulation, and who are devoted to prayer, or who practice hospitality, or who contribute to the needs of the saints, as if those activities themselves are gifts of God to the church. And so the Apostle Paul here is emphasizing that each one of us have been made recipients of gifts from the risen and ascended Christ. Each one of us!
Now, how often do you hear people say in churches today that twenty percent of the people are doing eighty percent of the work, and eighty percent of the people are doing twenty percent of the work? Now, I don't know whether that's the case. I certainly don't know whether that's the case in our own congregation. But I wonder whether that's a helpful way for us to think. Certainly none of us want to fail to be utilizing our gift in the body of Christ, or our gifts. Because if Christ has gifted each of us, He has gifted us because that gift is needed in the church. And even though it may not be an up-front gift that God has given to us, yet it is needful to the church, and the church is impoverished if that gift is not exercised.
I well remember Dr. Doug Kelly telling us in seminary about a woman in the congregation in Aberdeen, Scotland, who had been confined to her home for many years, unable to come to church. But she was a woman of faith who was faithful to pray. She always made sure that the prayer reminders of the congregation were brought to her home, and she was diligent in spending many hours alone praying. It was she that prayed for years and years that an evangelical preacher would come to that congregation. There had been liberal pastors in that congregation that did not believe the word of God. And so many people expect, when we get to glory, to hear that it was the prayers of that godly woman that brought William Still to that congregation, who preached the gospel for over a half century, and raised up a host of evangelical ministers and missionaries in the Church of Scotland through that faithful proclamation. It was she, who, when a poor seminary student named Doug Kelly came there having to go to a preaching assignment and his alarm clock was broken, said to him, “Douglas, have you prayed for that clock?” And he said, “I'd never thought of praying for a clock in my life!” And she said, “Well, let's just do it right now!” and started praying that the Lord would make that alarm clock work. Well, guess what? It did, and he got to his preaching assignment where he needed to be the next day. And I wonder whether that — Doug was already a consecrated servant of the Lord, but I wonder whether that has been a spark in Doug's own devotion in encouraging the people of God in prayer. He tells that story in his wonderful book, If God Already Knows, Why Pray? how that woman in her gift of faith and prayer blessed that congregation, and blessed us even though most of us never met her. She had a gift that needed to be used, that if it had not been used, the church would have been impoverished.
My friends, we need to have that attitude ourselves. You may be a young person, and you may draw pictures for your Mom and Dad and for your Grandmom and Grandad. And, you know, your Mom and Dad may have so many of those pictures that there's not even room now on the refrigerator or in their drawers to keep them. But there may be an older person in this congregation that's confined to their home, or to a nursing home, or even to a hospice, who doesn't have a grandchild to draw pictures for them. And your picture may be a great, great encouragement to them to let them know that they have not been forgotten, and that there's a young person that loves them. And you might say, “Mom and Dad, this afternoon could we go the nursing home and visit some of our members, some of our friends here in this church, that are in the nursing home? And could I take my pictures to them?” Who knows how the gift that the Lord has given you might be used in the life of such a person.
All of us have ways that we can bless the body, and we must be on the lookout for how to do it. We shouldn't be looking at others and wishing that we had their gifts: we’ll be wasting our own. We shouldn't diminish how God will use small things in our eyes. No, we should be exercising the gifts the Lord has given us, because Christ has given every single one of His people gifts.
Secondly, the Apostle Paul emphasizes in verse 11 that Jesus has given different gifts to each one of us. Notice how he puts it: “He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers….” They’re different! Not everybody is an apostle, not everybody is a prophet, not everybody is an evangelist, not everybody is a pastor-teacher. Those gifts are different. God doesn't make cookie-cutter Christians. There's not a celestial cookie factory and one little cookie cutter out of which we're all made. We’re different, and that's glorious! It's enriching! Have you ever enjoyed being with Christians that have gifts that you don't have, that have strengths that you don't have, that have desires for God and for His glory, and love for Christ that you don't have? And it is personally enriching for you to be with those who have those things that you do not have. I have so often been blessed to be with people that have experiences and maturity and gifts that I do not have, and I am the richer for fellowship with them. That's how God intends it. Our very diversity enriches us, because on our own we don't have all that we need. And so in the very differences of those gifts there is an enriching of the whole body.
Then Paul goes on to say not only that we have different gifts, but in verse 12 that Jesus has given every gift for the well-being of the whole body, so that my gifts are not for my personal satisfaction and enjoyment and Christian growth; my gifts belong to you. Jesus has only proximately given them to me, but ultimately for His glory and for your edification. The things that the Lord has given to you, He has given to you for the well-being of the whole body. Each of our gifts belong to the whole body and are to be exercised in that way, because all of the gifts that Christ gives, He gives for the building up of the whole body; and, therefore, we need to cultivate a mindset that asks first of all ‘Lord God, what gifts have You given me?’ and then, secondly, ‘Lord God, how am I going to utilize those gifts for the whole body?’
And we also need to create a mindset that's on the lookout for those gifts and is encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ in the exercise of those gifts. When is the last time you said to a fellow church member, “I just want to pause and tell you how you have encouraged me in your doing of this” or in your trust in Christ, or in this way or that way? “It has been a blessing to me,” or “it has been a blessing to my child” or “I've seen how it's ministered to our congregation”? Have you encouraged your brothers and sisters in Christ in the exercise of their gifts?
Have you drawn your children's attention to the gifts of others that God has not given you, but has given to others? My wife, Anne, was telling me after the first service that Ron Musselman, who used to minister in this congregation, he and his wife would bring people into the home and say to their children, “Now, this person has this gift that we don't have” in order to draw attention to that young person of the gifts that God had given to His whole body through those particular people, to encourage them and to encourage their children to be on the lookout for those very gifts.
And again, my friends, we often have no idea how our gifts are used in the lives of others. Just this past week, I was talking to a friend of mine who said that many, many years ago he had gone into his law firm very early on a Saturday morning. Nobody else was there but he, and he went into his little office and closed the door, and he was working away. And into that law firm very early on a Saturday morning came one of our elders, who had no idea that anybody else was there, and at the top of his lungs he was singing, “Crown Him with Many Crowns”. And my friend said, “You know, you learn a lot about a man when he's alone and he doesn't know that he's being watched.” And that man singing praises to God as he prepared to do his work…that gift…what do you call it? Is that rejoicing in hope, from Romans 12? Maybe so. I don't know…what do you…? I don't even know what to call it. Isn't it amazing how that gift has stayed in the heart of my friend for years – to see a man who loves the Lord, serving the Lord, singing His praises as he tries to glorify Him in all of life, even in his vocation at work?
We don't know how the gifts that God has given to us will minister in the lives of His people, but we do know this: that there is no gift that has been given to us which is not intended to be a blessing to the whole body. And so, consequently, we must think in terms of our own gifts and callings as to how they will serve the welfare, the well-being, of the whole body.
May the Lord bless His word. Let's pray.
Lord God, help us to think like kingdom Christians that are always desiring to bless the whole body, the whole family, the whole fellowship of the Lord's people. We do love Your kingdom, and help us to manifest that even in the way we use our gifts. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord]
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.