7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; (Ephesians 4:7–11)
I remember when I first discovered what my spiritual gift was—it dramatically changed my life.
I was a tech school dropout who was back in his hometown washing dishes at the local restaurant and drinking beer with his buddies.
Well, after I got saved to drinking beer with my buddies had stopped which left me with almost absolutely nothing to do.
I wondered what would happen to my life. Girls didn’t like me—so there seemed no chance of starting a family. And who could support a family washing dishes anyway?
My biggest goal in life was to move from dishwasher to grill cook—which I did, but it didn’t change my wages any.
A pastor in town, Lynn Holm, had been discipling me—we were working to the book of Romans together—when he asked me if I would like to go with him to a Bible college in Bozeman for a day.
I remember attending only one class, and it was a class on a little book in the New Testament called Philemon.
It’s basically a letter written to a slaveowner to encourage him to accept back a slave who had ran away, but now had become a Christian. There isn’t much to Philemon at all, just twenty-five verses.
But something inside me clicked. I had fallen in love with studying the Bible and I knew that I wanted to teach and preach it someday.
It didn’t happen right away. That was 1991. It wasn’t until 1999, that I finally entered the pulpit as a pastor-teacher in a church.
It doesn’t mean that I have a great speaking voice, or that I am perfectly comfortable speaking in front of people, or that I have great stories and outlines—it just means that Christ, by his grace, has gifted me to be a pastor-teacher.
The discovery of my spiritual gift gave me a purpose to my life. And I think for Christians who use their spiritual gifts the way that God has intended them to do, they also can find purpose in their life even if it’s not full-time ministry like it is for me.
In this passage today, we will learn who Christ has given a spiritual gift to, why he is able to give spiritual gifts, and a few examples of the kinds of gifts that he gives.
I. CHRIST GIVES EACH CHRISTIAN A GIFT
In the first part of this chapter, we saw a great emphasis on unity in the Church and for good reason. We were reminded that:
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. (Ephesians 4:4–6)
It could be construed that the church’s unity means that we’ll all be the same. Not so. Paul writes:
Ephesians 4:7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
A. Each One Given A Grace-Gift
“But”—Paul had been talking about unity; now he switches to talking about individual spiritual gifts that Christ gives to every Christian. We have diversity in our unity.
The “grace” here refers to, at least in part, the spiritual gifts that Christ gives his Church.
Spiritual gifts aren’t things that we are really good at because of our innate abilities or talents. They are avenues that Christ, in his grace, uses to work through us. I am not a great public speaker, but by his grace I am a teacher.
There are five lists of spiritual gifts in the Scriptures (4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:8–10; 12:28–30; Romans 12:6–8; 1 Peter 4:11) that include things like teaching, helps, governing, and so forth.
Now, a very common question that Christians have when it comes to spiritual gifts is: “What is my spiritual gift?” Some may even wonder if they have a spiritual gift.
Notice what it says, “unto every one of us”—Every Christian has a gift. Not one is left out. Everyone has received something that will make them a benefit to other people.
By the way, the gifts given by Christ are for the benefit of others—not of ourselves. He does not give gifts to make much of ourselves—but to make much of him.
I wonder if some Christians who are wondering what their spiritual gift is, are in fact, hoping that their gift is a flashy sort of gift, and are missing the gift that Christ has given them.
B. According To The Measure
That’s not a good thing at all because Paul goes on to say that our gifts are given “according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”
“measure” (μέτρον, Noun neut sing acc measurement, dimension; poetic meter).
When you measure something, whether it’s a cook measuring out ingredients or a carpenter measuring a two-by-four, it’s a thoughtful and careful process—especially if it’s a really good cook or carpenter that we’re talking about.
Christ gives his gifts thoughtfully and carefully. Christ is measuring out these gifts, and since he is perfect, his measurements are going to be perfect.
Sometimes we get gifts for our birthdays or Christmas that…well, end up hidden in a drawer until the end of the world.
Christ does not, can not, give such gifts. You have a spiritual gift. It is perfect for you. It fits you like a tailored suit or dress.
C. Finding Our Spiritual Gift
How do you find your spiritual gift?
Start with a Bible study of the spiritual gifts.
Go to those five passages I mentioned before: Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:8–10; 12:28–30; Romans 12:6–8 and 1 Peter 4:11. Read them. Check a commentary to be sure you understand them. Pray over those passages.
In order to find our spiritual gift, we need to be honest with ourselves. Your gift may not be a flashy gift, or it may require you to do what you are uncomfortable doing. Ask yourself:
- Where has God placed you at this point in your life?
- What is your heart the most passionate about?
- What are you effective at doing? It’s not that you are necessarily good at doing it, but that Christ, in his grace, is working through you.
Those are inward-examining questions. Questions like those can help us identify our gifts. What you’ll generally find is that you are already using your gifts in some capacity, but maybe not at the fullest extent that you should be.
There is one more question that isn’t inward-examining, and that is: What are the needs in your local church and community?
The Church is like the human body (1 Corinthians 12) and just as the human body requires every part to work in order to be the best it can be, so the Church has to have everyone working to be the best it can be.
If you could not walk, you would have need of healthy legs. If you could not see, you would have need of eyes.
[Many] years ago, two students graduated from the Chicago-Kent College of Law. The highest ranking student in the class was a blind man named Overton and, when he received his honor, he insisted that half the credit should go to his friend, Kaspryzak.
They had met one another in school when the armless Mr. Kaspryzak had guided the blind Mr. Overton down a flight of stairs. This acquaintance ripened into friendship and a beautiful example of interdependence.
The blind man carried the books which the armless man read aloud in their common study, and thus the individual deficiency of each was compensated for by the other.
After their graduation, they planned to practice law together. This story was related by Donald Grey Barnhouse. No believer is complete by himself, we are to minister to one another, as a family.
(Galaxie Software, 10,000 Sermon Illustrations [Biblical Studies Press, 2002])
So what are the needs in your local church? Are you the part to fill the need of the body?
II. CHRIST GIVES GIFTS BECAUSE HE IS VICTOR
In our passage, verses 8-10 seem out of place. What do they have to do with spiritual gifts?
A. Leading Captivity Captive
Ephesians 4:8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
This verse is actually a quote, with modifications, from Psalm 68:18.
Psalm 68 is a psalm of triumph and refers to God triumphfully leading his people like a king leading his soldiers in a victory parade after a successful battle.
Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them. (Psalms 68:18)
Some of these soldiers might be the prisoners of war that the king and his armies recovered after the enemy had been defeated, which is what is meant by leading “captivity captive.”
Notice that Ephesians 4:8 says, “gave gifts unto men.” After the parade, the king would ascend to his throne and take the spoils of war and distribute them among his men.
Paul takes Psalm 68:18 that refers to the Lord God and applies it to Christ, telling us that Christ is the same God as in the Old Testament.
B. How Christ Led Captivity Captive
Most Bibles put the next two verses in parentheses, to show clearly that Paul is explaining how Christ fits into Psalm 68:18 and is able to be the one with the right to give gifts.
Ephesians 4:9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
Ephesians 4:10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Notice a bit of logic that Paul is using here: if Christ has “ascended”, That means that he must have “descended.”
Jesus descended to this earth, humbled himself by becoming a human being, and died on the cross for our sins–he descended all the way to the grave. In doing so he conquered sin and death and Hell and triumphed over them.
That is why only Christ can save you. Only Christ has done all this for you. Only Christ has died for your sins. Only Christ has been raised (ascended) from the dead in triumph over death.
Don’t think that your good works are going to be better than what Christ has done for you. Don’t think that obeying church traditions and authorities and following rituals to the letter will be superior to what Christ did for you.
He earned the right to give you salvation. You have no right to have salvation unless you receive it as a gift by faith from Christ alone.
Christ is now ascended and seated at the right hand of God the Father where, like the kings of old after a victory parade, he has the authority distribute gifts to the followers that he has set free from the power of Satan.
What are those gifts? As we mentioned earlier, there are five lists found in the Bible, with, depending on how you classify them, nineteen or twenty spiritual gifts listed.
We’ll just look at the ones that are listed here in verse eleven:
III. CHRIST GIVES GIFTS LIKE…
Ephesians 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
A. Apostles And Prophets
“apostles; and some, prophets”—Do we still have apostles and prophets today?
Some would say yes. They point out that an apostle is basically a church planter and a missionary. A prophet is someone who declares God’s truth forcefully.
Now the apostles and the prophets in the New Testament did those things, but they did more. The apostles were witnesses commissioned by Christ to establish the Church.
The prophets received God’s inspired word and recorded it, making what we call the New Testament.
Yes, I suppose, in a sense you could say that we still have apostles and prophets.
But the New Testament indicates that the apostles and prophets were temporary gifts for the establishment of the church and the writing of the New Testament.
20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; (Ephesians 2:20)
Bible teacher Harry Ironside said:
You do not lay a foundation for a building every few stories, but the foundation is built once for all, and then the superstructure is erected.
Long ago, nineteen hundred years ago, the apostles and prophets fulfilled their ministry. We are not looking for new apostles and prophets.
(H. A. Ironside, In the Heavenlies : Practical Expository Addresses on the Epistle to the Ephesians. [Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1937], 186)
(Also see 2 Corinthians 12:12)
“evangelists”—these are ones who proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ. An evangelist is given a heart of intense passion for the lost sinner and an ability to speak the Gospel in a way that sinners respond.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that other Christians cannot or should not evangelize. But there are some Christians who are especially gifted at it.
Perhaps another way of looking at it would be to say some Christians are gifted as evangelists, but every Christian is to be a witness.
Every Christian is responsible for living a holy life that witnesses to Christ.
Every Christian is responsible for giving an answer to everyone for the hope that he or she has in Christ.
“pastors and teachers”
1. What is a “pastor”?
A pastor is a shepherd. In fact, the Greek word (ποιμένας, ποιμήν, Acc/Pl/Masc) here is used eighteen times in the New Testament, and the KJV translates it as shepherd a total of seventeen times.
What does a shepherd do? He tends his sheep. He feeds them, he cares for their wounds, he guides them in the right way. As Peter says, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof” (1 Peter 5:2a).
So a pastor is someone who is involved in the care and feeding (in a spiritual sense) of others. As the evangelist has a special heart for the lost, so the pastor has a special heart for the saved.
2. What is a “teacher”?
A teacher dispenses information to students. Teachers are vital in Christianity because Christianity is based on knowledge.
We have a book from God that we are to learn and use in our daily lives. Even our faith is based on knowledge, “faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
A Christian’s faith is not based on feelings, it’s based on facts. We don’t have a blind faith, we have a faith in what we know and we need teachers to teach us that knowledge.
Teachers are important because God has gifted them to take the Bible and explain it in a way that makes sense to people. A good teacher will ask questions and give the answers.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t or can’t read the Bible on our own, no indeed, we should and must, in order to grow as a Christian. But at the same time, we need someone to explain it to us and exhort us to obey it.
I recall the words of the Ethiopian Eunuch, who, when Philip found him and asked him if he understood the words of Isaiah that he was reading, said, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:31).
Ideally, every Christian should be like the Berean Christians:
11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. (Acts 17:11)
3. It’s One: Pastor-Teacher
It has been long noted that, because of the Greek grammar here, this does not refer necessarily to two offices or functions in the church, but to one: a pastor-teacher.
And when you look at passages addressed to pastors in the New Testament, you find that teaching is often linked with the idea of pastoring (see 1 Timothy 5:17).
Why is it important that it’s one gift: pastor-teacher, instead of two: pastors and teachers?
Imagine someone who is just a pastor. Someone is in a crisis. He goes to them and comforts them, but he has no word from God to say to them. He doesn’t teach them or comfort them from the Bible, because he’s not a teacher.
Or, consider who the best teachers are. They aren’t the ones who have a dry lecture; they are the ones who make the lecture relevant to our lives.
The best teachers are the ones with a pastor’s heart. The best pastors are the ones who teach us what God wants us to know.
There are, of course, many other spiritual gifts; like I already mentioned this is just one of five lists found in the New Testament.
The most important thing is that we be using the gift or gifts that Christ has given us. We are his body and his body will function best when we all are doing what he has gifted us to do.
All of the gifts that Christ gives to individuals and to the church as a whole are gifts which He Himself perfectly exemplified. If ever there was a preacher it was Christ, if ever there was a teacher, ruler, administrator, servant, helper, or giver it was Christ. He is the perfect illustration and example of every gift, because His gifts to us are gracious gifts of Himself.
(John F. MacArthur Jr., Ephesians, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody Press, 1986], 149)