Part 21 of a series through the New Testament book of Ephesians
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But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (4:7-12).
Christ's Body Parts
But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift (v. 7).
Does the human body have useless parts? For years it’s been assumed that the appendix has no purpose. (It’s true that we can live without, but it actually might serve a function as part of the immune system.) Whether or not there are useless body parts is a matter of debate.
Every Christian is one of Christ’s body parts. “Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Cor. 12:12).
Every part of the body of Christ is important. There are no useless body parts.
Within the body of Christ, everyone has a unique ability.
In verse 7, “grace” means “enablement.” The abilities that Christ gives us are also called “gifts”. “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, let us use them” (Rom. 12:6). God has given “each one of us” at least on gift. We shouldn’t be jealous of other people’s gifts because they are given “according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
Ask yourself, “What spiritual gift has Christ given me?”
Within the body of Christ, everyone has a special purpose.
Earlier in Ephesians, Paul wrote, “We are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (2:10). By God’s grace, we receive the gift of salvation and gifts for service. “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Paul said to Timothy, “Do not neglect the gift you have” (1 Tim. 4:14).
Ask yourself, “What has Christ gifted me to do?”
The Descension and Ascension of Christ
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) (vv. 8-10).
Verses 8-10 cause us to ask three questions. First, does Paul misquote Psalm 68:18? Psalm 68:18 says, “You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men.” Paul writes that “he [Christ] gave gifts to men” rather than “receiving gifts among men.” “The ‘you’ in v. 18 refers to God’s ascent of Zion, probably in the person of the victorious king (or perhaps in reference to the establishment of the ark, which symbolizes the invisible presence of the God of Israel, on Zion). He led his captives in triumphal procession as they made their way up the temple mount…. Paul applies this picture to Christ’s ascension, not because there was some vague analogy between the two events, but because he saw in Jesus’ exaltation a further fulfillment of this triumph of God” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, 288-89). “After a conquest, the spoils were distributed among the leader’s men. Thus the psalm focuses on the conqueror who acquired the spoils from the defeated, while Paul’s adaptation of the truth of the psalm focuses on how that conqueror distributed the spoils to his own” (ESV Study Bible, 1018).
Second, to where did Christ “descend”? The traditional view is that Christ descended into Hades. Paul is probably referring to the incarnation. When the Son of God became human, he descended from heaven to earth. This descent included Christ’s death and burial.
Third, who are the “captives”? In Psalm 68, the captives are the enemies of Israel who were defeated when Jerusalem was capture. In Ephesians, the captives “can be either believers (2 Cor. 2:14) or principalities and powers (Col. 2:15). In light of Ephesians 1:20-23 on the Lord’s exaltation over spiritual forces, evil powers are probably in view” (Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, 201).
In summary, Christ descended from heaven to earth and was crucified and buried. But he rose from the grave, demonstrating his victory over Satan and his demons. Then he ascended to heaven and gave gifts to his people. Now Christ “fills all things,” meaning he rules over all the universe.
We're All Ministers
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (vv. 11-12).
These verses reveal God’s plan for ministry within the body of Christ.
1. Every Christian is to be equipped through the teaching of God’s Word.
“Paul is listing gifts and not offices” (Harold Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 539). God has given to the church gifted individuals who are to “equip the saints.” (Based on the original Greek, some commentators believe that the phrase “shepherds and teachers” should be translated “teaching shepherds.”)
2. Every Christian should be ministering to others.
The saints are equipped so that they may do “the work of ministry.” Ministry is for everyone. “The body of Christ does not have two classes of members—clergy and laity—or two sets of expectations. Everyone has the same task of building up the body, even though responsibilities vary” (Snodgrass, Ephesians, 224).
3. The result: increasing unity and maturity within the body of Christ.
The equipping and ministering of the saints leads to the “building up” of the body of Christ. “What is the purpose of Christ’s gifts? It is to serve Christ’s people, so that the body itself might become increasingly unified in faith and mature in practice” (James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians, 138). The body of Christ is strongest when all its parts are working together.