9. Be who God has made you to be

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  9. Be who God has made you to be

Rom 12:6    We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

If churches have problems, one of them is that so often we try and cast everyone in the same mould. Now in one sense that is right for we are all being shaped into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and as far as morals or ethics are concerned, that should be true, but the greater reality – and you see this in all of Creation – is that God loves diversity.

The apostle Paul touched on this in his famous chapter on the different parts of the body – and we will consider that more fully in the next meditation – when he speaks of us as different parts of the body: The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Cor 12:12) and he goes on in his analogy to speak of the foot, the hand, the eye, the ear and he goes on, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor 12:18,19)

Note, “God has arranged.” The Lord gifts us, He gives us different abilities according to His grace (His Holy Spirit’s enduing with power to act in specific ways). Regular readers will know one of my favourite verses in the New Testament is, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) We are what we are because God (through Jesus reigning at his Father’s right hand) through His Spirit, has brought us into being with different personalities, different gifts, abilities, desires etc.

Writer Gary Chapman in his “The Five Love Languages” suggests our different preferences for the way we show or receive love, or there is Patrick Morley’s, “The Six Worship Languages” that goes right back to Gordon MacDonald’s “Six leading Instincts of the Soul”, which is opened up even more by Gary Thomas’s “Sacred Pathways: Discover your Soul’s Path to God”. All of these writers grasp at the same thing – we are all different. (This has even been taken into ‘Learning Styles’ although this has been questioned by some).

Perhaps a personal application: the Bible thrills me, I come alive with it. Prophecy and preaching bless and thrill me. Worship, I long to go deeper with a greater reality. Prayer, I’m limited. Evangelism, I love sharing with those who want to know and although I have brought a number to the Lord, I grieve that it is so few and long to be gifted, but I am not. So how about you? What thrills you in the Christian life? Build on that. What gives you a buzz? Develop it.

Advertisements

1. History, a Battle for Reality

(As we come to the last two weeks before Christmas, I would like to take a break from Hebrews – we will come back and complete it in the New Year – and pause to reflect on the wonder of Christmas)

Meditations on the Reality of Christmas:   1. History, a Battle for Reality

Luke 1:1-4  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

I have at least once in the past written Advent meditations but every year when I approach this time I find I come from a new perspective, it seems, or the Lord seems to be putting a new emphasis before me. From the perspective of a gifts giving, food focused, one day orgy, I do not like Christmas, but when it comes to the Christmas story as found in Matthew and Luke, I find it the most wonderful time. Just how it is celebrated will vary all over the world but, I would like to suggest to you in this short series, how we celebrate it is almost an irrelevancy. How God ‘celebrated’ the coming of His Son to the earth is something else.

Now here is my worry, a concern I have for all of us who are Christians, and it is that we sink Christmas to the level of a romantic fairy story. I don’t know about your part of the world, but where I live in the UK, junior schools still put of ‘Nativity Plays’ by the children which are increasingly dressed up in other guises. It is almost as if teachers think, “Well, we’ve done this old story over and over again. It’s getting boring now. How can we make it something more interesting? How can we make it something that appeals to all people and all faiths?”

So here is my point: this story IS history, it DID happen and if we take the time to think about it, it IS the most amazing story ever written down in history. I always like the start of Luke’s Gospel because it is so down to earth. Yes, it does speak of another culture – how many of us have a friend named Theophilus? But it speaks of truth.

I want to keep these studies or meditations short, quicker to read in this period which seems to get so full of activity, so let me tell you what worries me about all this. It is that we Christians ‘do’ the Christmas story, year in, year out, and the danger is that familiarity breeds contempt, or at least boredom. I mean we all of us know the Christmas story, so why bother to make it the basis of a set of meditations when there is already one set of such meditations on this site?

Christian revelation involves a constant battle for reality. The enemy would seek to either deride it as utter make-believe, or make it so boring that it becomes irrelevant, or make it so intellectual that it sits in our heads without touching our hearts, or make it so romantic it simply comes with an emotional buzz but no intellectual understanding, or make it so mundane that we cease to worship the one who comes. Can we nail these options on the wall so we are aware of them, and then say, no, I will not let it be like this! Lord please open my eyes afresh to see the wonder of this story, touch my heart with the experiences of the people involved, touch my mind with the reality of the facts before us, touch my spirit to see the glory of the coming one and so be able to worship him in reality.

As a sign that these words mean something as you read them, may I ask you at the end of each of this series to pause and pray something specific? For this one, perhaps words that begin, “Lord, please open my eyes…..”

15. Warning Number 1

Meditations in Hebrews 2:   15. Warning Number 1  

Heb 2:1-3   We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

Moving into chapter 2 brings us face to face with the first of a number of warnings that the writer brings to his readers. If this had been the apostle Paul, his style tended to be several chapters of doctrine which are then followed by the practical teaching and exhortations, but this writer having written our chapter 1, now pauses before he brings any more doctrine (which will be integrated into the exhortations).

Having just shown that Jesus is so much greater than angels, that raises a concern in his mind as he reflects on the Law brought by Moses and the salvation now brought by Jesus. He reveals his pastoral concern in verse 1: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”  i.e. I know there is always this temptation to drift away (after all, it was what the Israelites had done time and time again) and so the means of stopping this possible drift is to “pay more careful attention… to what we have heard.” i.e. hold onto it, go back over it, make sure you fully take it in and understand it so it impacts you. I like the Message version on this verse: It’s crucial that we keep a firm grip on what we’ve heard so that we don’t drift off.” 

But then he gives another reason for holding firmly onto the truth that has been conveyed to us by Jesus: For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.” (v.2,3) i.e. the Law was conveyed by angels and those who disobeyed were punished, so how much more serious is it when God speaks to us through His own Son?

Now we perhaps ought to pause up here and note this reference to angels. There is no mention of angels in the historical accounts within Exodus of angels but it is clear that the modern Jews believed that they had been involved. For example, Stephen declared that (Acts 7:35,38,53) as did the apostle Paul (Gal 3:19). This may be because of Moses’ final words to Israel before he left them and died (Deut 33:2). The present writer picks up on this common belief and simply uses it here as a warning not to ignore the salvation proclaimed by Jesus.

Now again it might be worth just reflecting on what Jesus did say that we might be able to call the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. His opening words in Matthew are, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Mt 4:17) or as the Message puts it, “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.” Matthew was the gospel writer concerned about the Jewish viewpoint and knew they were waiting for God’s kingdom. Matthew then records, “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” (Mt 4:23)  i.e. kingdom word AND power. That IS good news!

Mark records, The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk 1:15) Mark, it is believed, was helped in his writing by the apostle Peter, who had come to see the wonder, the good news of everything to do with Jesus. Although this proclamation is followed by power activity you are left feeling how good it was, this was really very good news. Shortly Jesus delivered a demon possessed man in the local synagogue (Mk 1:23-26) and this left the watchers amazed at this brilliant teacher (v.22) who also had power (v.27).

Luke, after his early days’ passages, after the genealogy and temptation, records  Jesus in the local synagogue reading and applying to himself the words of Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19) This is packed full of good news but unlike our wishy-washy four rules type of proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus’ Gospel goes beyond words to actually setting people free and letting them know that “This is God’s year to act!” (Message Version) or “the time has come for the Lord to show his kindness,” (Easy to Read version).

Matthew’s equivalent to this is Jesus speaking to John the Baptist’s disciples, Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:4,5)  Jesus’ Gospel is a doing Gospel.

John concurs with this view of Jesus’ Gospel: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (Jn 20:30,31)  i.e. the signs point to the man, the Son of God.   Belief follows signs, for those who have eyes to see.

Our present writer to the Hebrews is completely in line with this as he continues, “God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” (v.4) although he uses the word ‘testifies’ applying the signs, wonders and miracles, to all those things we’ve read above. But not only that, He has imparted divinely supernatural gifts of the Spirit to Jesus’ body – the single body and now the body that is his church.

I wonder if this same message should be the primary message we hear in today’s church? Instead of teaching theory, shouldn’t our leaders be teaching power-practice, for didn’t Jesus say, “anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12). It is shear unbelief, I would suggest, to try and wash this verse out of the Scriptures by coming up with flim-flam that says these things have passed away. Everything we have been reading in this study points in the same direction: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) We demean him and his message if we are content with a mere words-only Gospel. It has served us well and many of us are the proof of it but that is not an excuse not to be the church Jesus spoke about, a church that brings the good news which is both words and transforming power. Without the ‘double-package’ we might ask is that why so much of the Western world is rejecting us?

But the thrust of the start of chapter 2 is, with all this evidence of the wonder of the Gospel of Jesus, we should learn it and live it to stop us drifting away and make it real and obvious so that others will not reject it. That is the message here.

9. Maths of the Kingdom

Meditating on the Gems of the Bible:  9. Maths of the Kingdom

Matt 13:10-12   The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?” He replied, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.

There were times when Jesus appeared to speak in riddles, we might say today, and in our verses above is one of those: “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Now this is one of those times when context is very important (it usually is!).  Jesus has just referred to “the secrets of the kingdom”. In other words he is speaking about how the way His Father’s kingdom works.

If we were talking about material possession it would sound quite unfair: whoever has a lot will be given more and whoever is poor will have the little he has taken away. Yes, in material terms that sounds quite unjust. And surely the Bible shows that God is concerned for the poor!  But if this is about the principles of how God works then it is more likely to be about spiritual principles than about material ones.

So what is the ‘has’ and ‘more’ and ‘abundance’ that is being referred to? Look at the text: “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more.”   It is the knowledge of how things work in the kingdom. As you come to God, and His Holy Spirit starts teaching you about the new way to live as a Christian, you first of all start learning basics: you can now pray,  worship, read your Bible; those are what are sometimes called spiritual disciplines. But then we learn that this new life means no to bad attitudes, words and behaviour and yes to good, Jesus-like behaviour. Christians are good and loving people as they are being remade in the image of Jesus.

Then we start finding that God has equipped us by the presence of His Holy Spirit and has given us gifts and abilities to be used to bless us and bless His world. Some we may call natural talents and so a person may be a good dancer, or artist, or homemaker, or a hundred and one other things that help them enjoy living in this world and making it a better place. But then we find out about spiritual gifts and we realise that as God leads us we can do the things Jesus did, bringing revelation and power into His world as he enables us.

But in a sense, this is merely the start. As we grow in Christ, we grow in our understanding of how God works. Moses asked, “Teach me your ways,” (Ex 33:13) meaning teach me the ways you work so I can know and understand you more fully, obey you and please you.  What he actually said was, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” He wanted to know God and please Him. That was Moses heart and it is the heart of the seeker.

And that brings us back to our starting verses. Again and again in Scripture there is this clarification that it is seekers who will find and know God.  Moses’ call to Israel was to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:4) That was a basic. But before that he had warned about Israel going astray and the path back was quite clear: “if from there you seek the LORD your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) Note in each case it is a whole-hearted seeking after God. The person who is wishy-washy in their intent towards God is not going to find.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount taught about right priorities: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) The “these things” in this verse are material things and so Jesus is saying make spiritual issues priorities and God will sort out your material issues for you. Jesus also taught, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” (Mt 7:7) but the tense in each case there means, for the present context, “seek and go on seeking and you will find.”

It’s a little bit like the meaning behind James’ teaching: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas 1:5-8) If you ask for wisdom believe that God WILL give it to you. The faint hearted half-believer won’t get it because they won’t believe it when it comes!

So returning to our original verses,  “Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance,” it is the whole hearted seeker who will have insights and understanding of the ways God works and what God wants, and the more he has the more he will see and want to see more. Seeing and understanding is satisfying and makes you want more. Thus the seeker isn’t a seeker just for a moment but for a lifetime.

But then we have the other person: “Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  This is the half-hearted person who is really little concerned for the kingdom, little concerned for what God wants and, although at the beginning of their spiritual life the Holy Spirit does a work in them, their response is still half-hearted and, failing to have a whole-hearted seeking approach, they shrivel spiritually or stay in a state of suspended spiritual animation, losing any real signs of life.

Jesus taught this in the parable of the Sower that precedes this teaching and is explained after this teaching: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” (Mt 13:3-7) and then, “The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” (Mt 13:20-22)

The message is clear: different heart conditions produce different results. The final one is “the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Mt 13:23) Good ground is a good heart. A good heart is a seeking heart. A seeking heart gets more and more from God. What a gem of truth!

7. Wonderful Spirit

Motivation Meditations in Acts : 7 :  The Wonder of the Holy Spirit

Acts  2:4    All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

We have already in the previous meditations suggested that motivation by the Holy Spirit is what we, as Christians, should be learning, and you might think that that is all that needs saying about it, but it is often not so simple as that – especially at such times when God seems to be moving sovereignly and strange things happen.

The disciples, almost by necessity, have been obedient to Jesus’ instructions and had waiting in Jerusalem. Then at the beginning of this feast, which was all about harvest, as they are together, suddenly the Holy Spirit comes on them all and it was a strange experience. We have more fully described in the general series on Acts 1 and for the point of this series we only want to focus on what the disciples seem impelled to do. Now in what follows it appears first of all they were in a house (v.2) but then lots of people were able to hear what they were saying, which would suggest that they spilled out into the streets and carried on doing it so that people from different parts could hear them praising God in their own languages.

So we have these men and women filled with the Spirit and speaking out in unknown tongues, spilling out into the street and becoming a public spectacle. In fact the follow on, when Peter gets up and preaches, results in about three thousand being saved, which suggests a large open public square. The result of the filling of the Holy Spirit meant that, in this case at least, the apostles were impelled into public view doing something they appeared to have little control over. Now the ultimate end result of all this is quite glorious with so many being saved, but initially, that which took place presents problems for some of us.

We don’t actually say it about the Acts 2 situation because we would not like to appear to be going against Scripture, but when we start talking about it and seeing it in our own context, many of us start making excuses why this was a one-off occasion and why they wouldn’t want it to happen to them.

Now I am old enough to have gone through the Charismatic movement in the back part of the twentieth century and also through the period that history books now record as the Toronto Blessing just before the turn of the century. The Charismatic movement was a more quiet opening up of the church to the filling of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit and a variety of books at the time spoke about it – but it wasn’t as crazily dramatic as the Toronto Blessing when the Holy Spirit came and people laughed uproariously, fell over in the Spirit, shook uncontrollably, jerked around, appeared drunk, and so on.

Being part of a church when this occurred, it was interesting to observe people’s reactions. In the secure environment of our own church a number of people exhibited a variety of these ‘manifestations’, but not everybody. Moreover as the word spread, we found ourselves with visitors who clearly came to observe, but not enter in, and who sat in the middle of the laughter and joy like little black clouds. Now I still come across people who speak negatively about that time and about the various things that occurred, but there are things to be observed and learned here.

First, God does not force Himself on people. The disciples on the Day of Pentecost were given over to the will of God, whatever than might entail. I note that in the time of the Toronto Blessing, you didn’t have to join in – and some people purposely held back and were pure observers. I believe in every case of some such manifestation, that person gave God permission to do what He will with them. Second, at the time, such ‘manifestations’ whether tongues on the day of filling, or laughter or whatever else in the time I have been referring to, are strange.

Now it is this strangeness that people object to. For some reason I have been around in conversations several times recently when this has come up and I have heard several times, the plaintive cry, “But I don’t want to look silly!” and that, I believe, is the primary reason people object to such manifestations which, basically, is all about pride.

Rather than make you feel bad or defensive, if that was you, may I give some encouragement.  In Jesus’ day he was accused of being of the devil (Mt 12:24) and he had to refute that by basically saying, think about the fruit of what I am doing. Will Satan cast out demons and undermine his own rule? No, of course not!

So let me tell you the fruits I saw coming out of the Toronto Blessing that some people still attribute to Satan. First, I witnessed an amazing healing. We prayed for a young man at a conference and he shook violently for half an hour as we carried on praying. A strange time of prayer but next day he had an appointment to see a specialist again, and what we hadn’t known was that he had had very bad stomach ulcers. The next day every sign of those ulcers had gone to the marvel of the doctors. Second, people came to pray meetings like there was no tomorrow and the prayer meeting became the most vibrant meeting of the week. Third, I saw in my people a new bubbling love for Jesus and, fourth, I saw people starting to read their Bibles like they had never done before. There was a new vibrancy of life in the Christians who were involved. Does Satan bring about these fruits? I don’t think so!

Read the history of revivals, where there is a sovereign move of God, as on the Day of Pentecost, and you find many reports of these sorts of things happening. When I was first filled with the Spirit I was filled with joy and a fresh and wonderful sense of being loved by God. Other things followed, but I ask, is joy and love bad?

What I often see, sadly, is that people who are offended by the Holy Spirit, don’t appear to be offended by the world’s behaviour and so often they imitate it, and in this Paul’s words are apt: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) Don’t live as the world lives, but instead let the Holy Spirit fill you and leave the outcome to the Lord, the fruit will be good, even as it was on the day of Pentecost, and even as we saw it in the Toronto Blessing days, even if, along the way, you might appear silly. Is your pride the thing that you will allow to stop God moving in such a manner that He is able to bring about rich fruit for the kingdom – through you?

 

32. Equipping

Ephesians Meditations No.32

Eph  4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

As a pastor of a church I really like these verses. They come as a total surprise to many Christians because they reverse the roles, so often perceived of  ‘clergy and laity’ (terrible descriptions!). So often we see the role of the vicar, minister, call him what you will, as the man who we hire to do all the stuff. Well look again at these verses and you may be very unsettled if that’s what you thought!

Remember, in the previous verses, Paul has just been writing about the gifts that Jesus gives through grace. Now we see that those gifts are gifts of men, gifts of ministries: It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.” Apostle simply means ‘sent one’, one sent out by Jesus to establish new churches. Prophets are those with the ministry of a listening ear to convey the heart of God for the now moment. Evangelists are those who have the divine ability to move hearts in conviction to make a commitment to Christ. Pastors are shepherds of the flock, those with local oversight and a caring role. Teachers impart knowledge, understanding and wisdom for the body of Christ. All of them operate because they have been given divinely supernatural abilities by Jesus. So that, very simply, is who they are.

But it is when we come to why they are to do it, that the shock comes: “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” Wow! What Paul is saying is that the job of the spiritual leader is to prepare God’s people so that they do the stuff! Christians are meant to be servers. You may remember that Jesus had a slight upset with his disciples on one occasion: “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave– just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:25-28). At the Last Supper “he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (Jn 13:4,5) and then taught them, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:14-17). Later he taught, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (Jn 14:12).

So Jesus looks in each of us to find a servant heart but He is the one who guides us into what we do: For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) and, you may remember from previous meditations, He is the one who equips us: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…..We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:3,6). This is for ALL Christians, not just a special few. As we give our lives over to Him so He will bring out of us the gifts that He has on His heart for us. He knows exactly what we are best suited for and will bring that about – using these faith ministries we referred to earlier in today’s verses. That’s what each of these men are – faith ministries, because they have a large portion of faith for their particular role and they impart that faith to those who are open and who God has chosen.

What is the end product of all this? It is we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” It is to build unity in the church, as we each learn to move in faith in the way God equips us, getting to know Jesus and his will for us more and more. This is maturity as we become more and more the body that Jesus wants us to be. Maturity is thus knowing the Lord, being open to him, receiving the gifting he wants to give us to serve in his kingdom, accepting that we are all different and that we complement each other, fitting together in harmony, producing a body that brings God’s blessing in a variety of ways to the church and to the world around it.

That is Jesus’ ultimate present goal, what he is working for in the present, and to achieve that he wants to use every Christian, not just the full time leader. The role of the leader is to teach, train and release the people of God so that the people of God can be the person they are designed to be in Christ. Where do you ‘fit’ in this body?

31. Captives & Gifts

Ephesians Meditations No.31

Eph  4:7-10 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”  (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

We have another link word to note – “but” which ties us in with what Paul had been saying earlier. See – Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Eph 3:20-4:1) Now back there at the end of the 3rd chapter Paul was speaking about the power God used to bring change within us, and then went on to challenge us to live accordingly, with that power. In verse 2 he called us to a life of humility, then in verse 3 to a life of unity and in verses 4 to 6 grounds why we should live in unity. So, now when we come to verse 7 he picks up again the idea of the work of Christ in us but now he refers to it as ‘grace’, which is the enabling of God by the power of His Spirit in us.

Note what he says about this grace: to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it”. This grace has been given to every one of us who is now a Christian, and we have it because Christ in his role as ruler at the Father’s right hand has apportioned or handed it out to us. This is the same picture that Paul used when writing to the Romans: “think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you…We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:3,6). The gifts, Paul will go on to describe here, are the ministries he gives to us by supernatural enabling. Grace is supernatural enabling, enabling by the Spirit.

At that point Paul picks up on Old Testament scriptures to justify or explain why that is. In Psa 68 we find the following: “Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever? ….. the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary. When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men, even from the rebellious– that you, O LORD God, might dwell there.” (Psa 68:16-18).

The ‘mountain where God chooses to reign’ was clearly in that day Jerusalem, or more specifically the Temple in Jerusalem, “his sanctuary.” Now in that prophetic picture David, the psalmist, uses the language of a conquering king coming home from battle bringing captives to show off. That conquering king received gifts or tribute from those he conquered, those who had rebelled against him but who he had now conquered. Now Paul might have applied that specifically to us, seeing us as those who have surrendered to God after having been in rebellion against Him. That would have been a legitimate picture of what has in fact happened, and the gifts we brought would be our submission, our bowing down, our honouring Him, but that’s not what Paul says when he writes it.

Paul took certain rabbinic interpretations of his day and changed the word after ‘gifts’, so instead of ‘from’ it became ‘for‘ which apparently in some places it was legitimate to do. So instead of receiving from us, our God who is a giver, gives to us. We surrender to him and become his captives (or prisoners as Paul has been saying) but what does He do? He doesn’t put us in chains but in fact does exactly the opposite; He frees us and gives to us. He gifts us with His grace so that, we will see later, we find we have supernatural spiritual gifts that enable us to operate in particular roles of His choosing.

Before we finish we need to deal with Paul’s aside, within the brackets: “What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?” This is Paul referring back to the Psa 68 quote, When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train;” The ‘ascended on high’ back then referred to God coming to Jerusalem and filling the Temple with His glory, ‘ascended’ over the ark. Paul is now applying that quote to Jesus and he contrasts ‘ascended’ and ‘descended’. Now at first sight the descended might appear to refer to Jesus coming down from heaven to earth, which is what some commentators say. But there is a problem with that. It is that the language of ‘lower earthly regions’ is more the Jewish language of the underworld rather than the earth itself. The ascended would probably refer to a) Jesus rising from the dead and then b) subsequently ascending back to heaven to rule at his Father’s right hand. The ‘descended’ may possibly refer to Jesus coming to earth, but my own preference is that he descended to hell, first because ‘hell’ and the ‘lower earthly regions’ were similar in Jewish thought of that day and second, if hell is the ultimate punishment for sin, then if Jesus totally took our punishment for sin, then it would have to have included going down into hell.

His final words in this aside in verse 10 are: “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.” Paul thus contrasts the wonder of Christ going down to the incredible wonder of him now ruling far about all else, which Paul referred to in chapter one when he spoke of God and “his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come, (1:20,21) an even more powerful description of Christ’s triumph and position now! Wow!