Lesson Passage: Ephesians 4:1-16
Biblical Truth: God has given every believer a spiritual gift. Your spiritual gift matters!
Life Goal: To greater value and engage your spiritual gift within the Body of Christ.
While I was attending seminary in Dallas, Texas, my wife, Katherine, worked for a non-profit organization called Apartment Life. Part of her responsibility was to interview potential employees that would serve within the organization. During one of these interviews she asked an applicant if he knew what his spiritual gift was. She wasn’t sure how to respond when without missing a beat, the applicant stated, “Computer Programming!” The applicant then explained in great detail how he used his unique talent to serve. This story is an excellent example of the confusion that surrounds spiritual gifts in today’s 21st century church.
What are they, how are they used, and why are the gifts so confusing?
Fortunately these questions were also present in the 1st century church and the Bible is not silent concerning the spiritual gifts. There are four passages in the New Testament that discuss the spiritual gifts. They are Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and 1 Peter 4. The following studies will investigate each passage individually while our Sunday morning services and Small Groups will offer a more comprehensive look at the spiritual gifts.
When I think of gifts often memories of my Birthday or Christmas quickly comes to my mind. For me these are special times when others have expressed their love for me through word, deeds, and gifts. Yet for some this time can be a painful or lonely reminder of our life circumstances. Growing up my dad would tell my sister and I stories from his childhood. One particular story that I’ve never been able to forget is about a little red clock that my dad received one Christmas. There was nothing extraordinary about this clock except that it was the only gift that he had received. My young mind would always rebel against this story! How sad! Only one gift! A clock?! What a bummer of a gift for a pre-teen boy. I could think of a million other things I would have rather had! His gift must not have been very special!
For many of us we relate to our spiritual gift like I responded to the story of my dad’s little red clock. We know we have a spiritual gift but we don’t think it’s anything special. We may look at our spiritual gift and wish we had a gift that we see in someone else. We may not realize that we have been given a spiritual gift or, like Katherine’s interviewee, we are just confused. Whether you have ever stopped to think about it or not, your spiritual gift matters!
Spiritual gifts are a special gift of the Spirit given to every believer by Christ and are used to build up the church in unity and the believer toward Christ likeness. Spiritual gifts, while distinct from the fruit of the Spirit, may or may not overlap with natural talents and abilities.
Spiritual gifts (charismata) are endowments given by the Holy Spirit (A Dictionary of the Bible, Oxford Press). These are supernatural graces, which individual Christians need to fulfill the mission of the church (The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church and Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology).
The Greek word for gifts is “charismata.” From this word we also derive the word charismatics. Currently there over 350 million charismatics worldwide and this stream of Christianity is rapidly growing.
Historically some churches have distinguished themselves from charismatics along the theological position of cessationism - that some of the gifts have ceased. Charismatics hold to continuationism or the continuation of all the gifts.
The English word “gift” has two meanings:
- A special ability or talent – such as playing piano, learning languages, and so on.
- Something that is given without a charge and freely – such as a present for a birthday.
“These two definitions color the way we read the New Testament passage. For some of these ministries God did give special talents and abilities – for healings, miracles, or speaking in tongues. However, the emphasis of the New Testament is not on the abilities themselves but on how they function in the ministries (services) of the church.
As we think about the spiritual gifts, we must keep in mind that what makes them spiritual is that they come from the Holy Spirit. What makes them a gift is that the Holy Spirit freely gives them to us so we can use them in serving the body of Christ. Spiritual gifts are not meant to be stored or publicized. They are meant to be used [engaged!] for the service of the body!” (What the Bible Says about Spiritual Gifts, Rose Publishing, 2)
What was one of the best gifts you were ever given?
THE NATURE OF THE GIVER (4:1-11)
God’s Heart: Unity
In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul encourages the Christians in Ephesus to follow well “diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.” Here we see God’s heart for the church: unity in the midst of diversity.
“Therefore I, the prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, accepting one another in love, diligently keeping the unity of the Spirit with the peace that binds us.” (Ephesians 4:1-3)
What brings unity to the church?
How do we see spiritual gifts bring unity to the church?
How do we see diversity within spiritual gifts?
God: The Greatest Giver
Paul expounds on the oneness that is to mark the church by focusing on the nature of the greatest giver, God. While the term “Trinity" is never used in the Bible, Ephesians 4: 4-7 is one of the clearest presentations of the Trinity in the Bible. It is important to note that Paul invokes the Trinitarian formula to underscore the importance of what he is about to unpack – the spiritual gifts!
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of the Messiah’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:4-7)
Note: It is the Lord who calls (v. 1), commissions (v. 1a, 4-5), and gives gifts to His followers (v. 7).
What gifts have been given to you whose monetary value is not significant but whose emotional or sentimental value is great?
How did the giver’s relationship or position lend value to the gift?
The Gifts: Unpacked (Ephesians 4:7)
1) Every believer has been given a spiritual gift.
2) Christ is the one who gives the gift.
Theological Heavy Lifting
Your spiritual gift is only one aspect of the Theology of Stewardship. As stewards of God - one who manages another's property, finances, or other affairs – we have been divinely appointed to be:
1) recipients of spiritual gifts
2) to be priests (1 Peter 2:9)
3) participants in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27)
4) ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20)
5) as well as stewards that manage our time, treasure, talents, testimonies, and temples (bodies) well!
While your spiritual gift may mature over time or manifest itself differently in different seasons, you receive your spiritual gift the day you become a Christian!
“For it says: When He ascended on high, He took prisoners into captivity; He gave gifts to people. But what does “He ascended” mean except that He descended to the lower parts of the earth? The One who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:8-11)
The imagery of Ephesians 4:8 is quoting Psalms 68:18 and points to an all-powerful conquering king.
“You ascended to the heights, taking away captives; You received gifts from people, even from the rebellious, so that the Lord God might live there.” (Psalms 68:18)
Ephesians 4:8 parallels with the imagery found in Revelation 6:2 and Colossians 2:15.
“He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.” (Colossians 2:15)
“I looked, and there was a white horse. The horseman on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out as a victor to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2)
In the Greek, the term conquer (Revelation 6:2) is nikon – 1. to overcome and take control of by military force. 2. Successfully overcome (a problem). We are familiar with this word in our world because of cameras (Nikon) and sports apparel (Nike).
For the Biblical reader, the contemporary imagery invoked in Ephesians 4:8 would be a conquering Caesar returning from military victory (nikon) with riches and spoils to be handed out to His faithful subjects and followers. The triumphs, military parades ~ like our ticker tape parades, are historically well documented. During these military parades the Caesars would lead their prisoners and spoils through the streets of Rome accompanied to thunderous praise from the Senate and the “mob” of Rome.
According to Ephesians 4 at what point did Jesus give spiritual gifts?
Your spiritual gift is an affirmation and sign to the world that Christ has triumphed and declared victory over sin, death, and the powers of darkness!
Why should you care about your spiritual gift? You should care about your spiritual gift because it points to Jesus! Jesus after conquering sin, death, and the powers of darkness gave you a spiritual gift. This gift points to His goodness and much like an engagement ring points to better things to come, the spiritual gift marks the believer and points to Christ’s impact on the believers life. Someday, Christ will come for his bride! How are we doing showing off His special gift?
On a scale of 1-10 how have you valued your Spiritual gift?
How should the fact that your spiritual gift is a victory gift given from Christ the conquering King impact your value of your Spiritual gift?
THE GOAL OF THE GIFT (4:11-13)
Gift List in Ephesians
“And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,” (Ephesians 4:11)
The Gifts: Ephesian’s Gift List
- The gift list in Ephesians focuses on function (role) versus hierarchy (importance). As we will see Paul focuses on “why the Spiritual gifts were given” not “which is the most prominent.” The list does not merely outline positions (apostles, elders, deacons) but functions within the body.
- This gift list is representative not exhaustive.
- Spiritual gifts are unique from a God given natural talent (ie. computer programming, singing, public speaking). While there may be overlap, spiritual gifts and natural talent (abilities) are distinct.
Theological: Deep Thoughts
Spiritual gifts often tend to be shrouded in confusion and seem to resist being placed in a box or a formulaic order yet the gifts are interdependent on the ministry of the Word. The Word of God is the consistent element that runs through both the functional and role related gifts. Not only are the gifts a ministry of the Word but the Word brings clarity, purpose, and order to the spiritual gifts.
Purpose of Gifts
“For the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)
Why were we given Spiritual Gifts? Paul gives three reasons:
1) (v. 12)
2) (v. 12)
3) (v. 13)
Paul here gives three arguments for why we were given spiritual gifts. 1) Spiritual gifts are designed to equip believers to serve in Kingdom work, 2) Spiritual gifts are designed to build up the body of Christ (strengthen & encourage), and 3) Spiritual gifts bring unity of faith, knowledge of Christ, and maturity in Christ.
Stated negatively, if we are not engaging our spiritual gifts – we are not maximizing our potential to raise up believers to serve, we are not building up the body of Christ, and we are missing the mark when it comes to unity and maturity in Christ! We must engage our gifts!
Note: A mark of a disciple of Christ is service! (Mk 10:45)
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE RECIPIENT (4:14-16)
“ Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” (Ephesians 4:14-16)
We know from experience that God is a giving God. We know from the Word that the goal of the gift is for the equipping of the saints, the building up of the Body, and the maturity of the believer. Spiritual gifts are used in the context of church – saints, the Body, believer. So what will the gifts do for me?
What does Ephesians 4:14-16 say that your gift will do when it is engaged?
Those who hold back in fear, are not willing to take risks to engage their gifts, or draw boundaries as to when and where they will use their gifts in the Body, sideline themselves and make themselves ineffective for their King. As followers of Christ we are called to engage our spiritual gift for the sake of the Body and the glory of Christ! Our spiritual gifts matter because they were given to us by our Savior and King!
My dad grew up in a broken home. At the age of eight his mom divorced his dad. Divorce was rare and it was customary for the mother to get full custody of the kids. Because of this, the judge awarded my dad’s mom the house, the car, the new furniture, and the majority of their family’s worldly possessions. About a year after the divorce my dad requested to live with my grandpa. Shortly afterwards his sister also transitioned to my grandpa’s care. My grandpa, who had been left with little after his divorce, was a cookie salesman with an eighth grade education. He was a hard worker, worked multiple jobs and long hours to make ends meet often with little if any surplus left over. My dad received a red clock because his father’s resources were limited – he would often recount that instead of box springs under his mattress he had cookie boxes as box springs could not be afforded. The gift of a little red clock was a costly act of love – what a marvelous gift from a hard-pressed earthly father! How much greater our gift from a loving heavenly Father who gives us just the right gift out of His infinite wisdom and resources. Your gift matters – Engage it!