"The Diversity of Spiritual Gifts" Page 2 of 4 (Lessons on Ephesians

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

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.)

The logical explanation of these verses is that since Christ ascended, He must have, out of necessity, descended at some previous period. Some see only the Incarnation (Christ in human form) in this. The early church fathers saw in it the work of Christ in bringing the Old Testament saints out of paradise and up to the throne of God. We are told that He descended into hell. It is not necessary, however, to assume that He entered into some form of suffering after His death. His incarnation and death were His humiliation and descent, and they were adequate to bring the redeemed of the Old Testament into the presence of God. That would explain His fullness here. “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.” I recognize, however, that there are other interpretations.

As Paul wrote this letter, another thought may have occurred to him. Jesus ascended up on high. But He did not ascend up on high to leave the world; he ascended up on high to fill the world with His presence. When Jesus was here in the flesh, he could only be in one place at any one time; he was under all the limitations of the body; but when He laid this body aside and returned to glory, he was liberated from the limitations of the body and was able then to be everywhere in all the world through His Spirit. To Paul the ascension of Jesus meant not a Christ-deserted but a Christ-filled world.

11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure (standard) of the stature of the fulness of Christ:

I translate verse 11 this way: “He Himself gave some as apostles, and some as prophets and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” This verse does not refer to the gifts He has given to men, although it is true that it is He who has given the gifts. What Paul is saying here is that Christ takes certain men who have been given certain gifts and He gives them to the Church. The gifted leaders are supposed to “equip the saints to do the work of the ministry; the building up of the body of Christ” (translation). The saints do not call a pastor and pay him to do the work. They call him and follow his leadership as he, through the Word equips them to do the job (2 Timothy 3:13-17{5]). The members of the Church grow by feeding on the Word and ministering to each other. The first evidence of spiritual growth is Christlikeness.

Now noticed verse 12, for there he gives the purpose for which these men are given to the Church: “For the perfecting of the saints{1], for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” These gifted men are given to the Church so that it might be brought to full maturity.

Then in verse 13 he tells us the purpose of the Church in the world? It is to complete itself, so that it might grow up. He says, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Think about the message here, what we have to look forward to; we will one day be like Jesus Christ.

It is the Lord Jesus Himself who gives gifted men to perfect the Church. The Lord Jesus is the One who has the authority and is the One who bestows gifts. He gave “some, apostles” to the Church. The word means “one who is sent with a commission.” Jesus had many disciples, but He selected 12 Apostles (Matthew 10:1-4). A disciple is a “follower” or a “learner,” but an apostle is a “divinely appointed representative.” The apostles were to give witness of the Resurrection (Acts 1:15-22), and therefore had to have seen the risen Christ personally (1 Corinthians 9:1-2). The author of Hebrews explicitly describes our Lord as “the apostle… Of our confession” (Hebrew 3:1). Jesus is sent by the Father with the authority of the Father to teach

the doctrines and words of the Father.

An apostle was a man who had not only seen the resurrected Christ but had also been directly and personally commissioned by Him to be an apostle. He enjoyed a special inspiration. This is why Paul could state: “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead); … For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:1, 12). This office, by virtue of its very nature, has long since disappeared from the Church. These men helped to lay the foundation of the church—“the foundation laid by the Apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20), and once the foundation was laid, they were no longer needed. In a sense the apostles were bound to die out, because before very long those who had actually seen Jesus and who had actually witnessed the resurrection, would pass from this world. But, in another and still greater sense, the qualification remains. He who would teach Christ must know Christ; and he who would bring the power of Christ to others must have experienced Christ’s risen power. God authenticated their ministry with special miracles (Hebrews 2:1-4{6]), so we should not demand these same miracles today. Of course, in a broad sense, all Christians have an apostolic ministry. “As My Father has sent Me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). But we must not claim to be apostles, as many preachers do today (especially TV preachers).

“The Twelve”—the apostles called by Jesus (Luke 6:13) were trained by Him, equipped to serve Him, and sent into the world by Him (Matthew 28:18-20). The Apostle Paul was added to this group of 12 (“as one untimely born” as he puts it, 1 Corinthians 15:8{7]). When his apostleship was attacked as inauthentic he defended it vigorously, arguing that all the necessary prerequisites for apostolic ministry were present in his life. He had seen the Lord and had been commissioned personally by Him; the signs of an apostle were evident in his ministry; he had been received into the fellowship of the other members of the apostolic band (1 Corinthians 9:1-3; 15:6, 9-10). Acts 14:14 refers to “the apostles Barnabas and Paul, while Galatians 1:19 seems to indicate that the Lord’s brother James was regarded as an apostle: “But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lords brother.” The apostles mentioned in the well-organized lists of the New Testament are apostles in the sense that they are given responsibility for the whole church (Matthew 28:18-20{7]). Their central task was to provide authentic and authoritative witness to Christ. That witness was in turn authenticated, as Jesus’ apostleship and revelation had been, by the “signs of an apostle” (2 Corinthians 12:12; Acts 2:22).

The prophets were wanderers throughout the time of the “EarlyChurch.” Their message was believed to be not the result of thought and study but the direct result of the Holy Spirit. They had no homes and no families and no means of support. They went from church to church proclaiming the will of God as God had told it to them.

He gave “some prophets.” Here, as in other epistles, this has reference to New Testament prophets. They were men who were given, as were the apostles, particular insight into the doctrines of the faith (Ephesians 3:5{8]). They were under the immediate influence and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, which distinguishes them from teachers (1 Corinthians 12:10{9]). The prophets did not so much for-tell the future as fourth-tell the will of God. In fourth-telling the will of God, they necessarily to some extent forth-told the future, because they announced the consequences which would follow if men disobeyed that will.

The purpose of prophesy is “edification, encouragement, and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3, translation). Christians today do not get their spiritual knowledge immediately from the Holy Spirit, but through the Holy Spirit teaching the word. There is no one around today with the office of apostle or prophet in that sense; because they were a once-for-all gift. They themselves passed off the scene long ago, but they are still members of His Church. His Church exists not only on earth; part of the Church is up in Heaven with Him. They are part of that host, which is in the presence of God. In another sense they are still with us today. Are we studying the Epistle to the Ephesians right now? And who wrote it? The Apostle Paul and he is still with us even though he is up in heaven with Christ. He is absent from the body but present with Christ. Yet he is still a member of the Church and he is still an apostle to us.

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