Summary: 29th in a series on Ephesians. Although Jesus creates unity in the church, he gives us diverse gifts to use in that process.
A couple of weeks ago the Worship Team sang “Glory in the Highest” for the first time during our response time. And as all of us on the Worship Team know firsthand, God did a tremendous work that morning. During our rehearsal time, we really struggled to be able to play and sing that song well. We had a difficult time getting all the various instruments and voices to fit together so that the song would be pleasing to listen to. But when it came time for us to play and sing during the service, it seems that God brought everything together. All the diverse elements – the guitars, the bass, the piano, the violin, the drums and many different voices came together as one. Although there were many unique, diverse elements present, they were united in a way that created a beautiful song that gave glory to God.
I think that’s a pretty good illustration of what Paul is teaching about in this first part of Chapter 4 of Ephesians. In order to properly understand this morning’s passage, we need to make sure that we understand the context in which it is written. So take your Bibles and turn to Ephesians chapter 4 and let’s read verses 7 through 16:
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.) 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. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:7-16 (NIV)
As Paul began chapter 4, we saw his emphasis on unity within the body of Christ. And so, particularly in verses 4-6, he stressed those things in that we have in common that allow us to be unified as followers of Jesus Christ. But, as we come to verse 7, while Paul is still dealing with unity, he is going to change his focus. How de we know that?
Hopefully one of the things that we’ve learned in our journey through Paul’s letter is the importance of connecting words and phrases such as “then”, “therefore”, “for”, “for this reason”, and the one he uses here – “but”. That little three letter word indicates that Paul is about to make some kind of contrast.
Paul has already hinted at the idea that unity does not mean uniformity. He acknowledges the uniqueness of each of his readers. But his emphasis up to this point has been on what they share in common – all the spiritual blessings he has written about in Chapter 1, the fact that God has brought them all together in the church in Chapters 2 and 3, and the seven “ones” that they have in common at the beginning of Chapter 4. But in verse 7, his emphasis changes. Not only does Paul use the word “but” to introduce this contrast, but for the very first time, he also uses the phrase “each one of us.” So there is a shift from the corporate to the individual, from our privileges to our responsibilities, from what God has already done for us to what He is doing through us.
Let’s read once again our passage for today:
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.)
Ephesians 4:7-10 (NIV)
This is another one of those passages that can be quite difficult to deal with. Verse 7 is actually pretty straightforward, but there are some significant difficulties that arise with the remainder of our text. As I researched this passage this week, I was amazed at how many pastors just avoided dealing with verses 8-10 altogether or who just glossed over those verses. And even one of my favorite commentaries on Ephesians barely mentions verse 8 and doesn’t deal with verses 9 and 10 at all.