Using Gifts for Unity
by Jack Wald | January 10th, 2016

Ephesians 4:7-16
Ephesians is one of four letters Paul wrote while in prison in Rome. He was 56 years old, just two to four years away from his death at the hand of the Emperor Nero. His body was wracked with pain from all the beatings and floggings he had received over the years. In addition to his physical suffering, Paul was consumed by his concern for the churches he had planted.

Unlike Philemon, Colossians, and Philippians, the other three letters written when Paul was in prison, Ephesians was not written to a specific church or person. Although we read in chapter one, verse two, “To all the saints in Ephesus,” the earliest copies of Paul’s letter do not contain “Ephesus”. There is space left for each city where the letter was read to insert its name. Paul wrote this as a general letter to be read in all the cities of the region of Ephesus.

This is why, if you go to the end of the letter, you do not find the personal greetings in Paul’s other letters. There is no greeting sent from Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, or Epaphras as we find in Colossians. There are no greetings sent to any of those Paul knows in the church. There are no personal instructions. This is a general letter sent to the saints, the holy children of God, living in the region of what is today Turkey.

This is a letter full of grace. As Paul talks about the amazing truth that God made himself known to us and brought us into relationship with himself, he uses the word “grace” over and over again to express what God has done. Twelve times the word grace appears in this short letter.

Paul had experienced this grace. He had led the effort to destroy the cult of the followers of Jesus and then, when he was on the road to Damascus with the charge to arrest the followers of Jesus in that city, he was met by Jesus who asked him, (Acts 26:14)
‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?

From being the chief persecutor of the church, Saul, who took on his Greek name, Paul, became the chief evangelist of the church. But Paul never forgot the grace extended to him by Jesus. (1 Corinthians 15:9)
9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.

Why did Paul write this letter? I think Paul was aware of his mortality and desperately wanted his message to be heard. Because he could not go himself to teach and preach, he did the next best thing. He sent one of his disciples to take this letter with his teaching and read it to the different communities of followers of Jesus.

Unlike his other letters, Paul is not addressing a particular problem or concern. In Ephesians Paul is saying, here is truth you cannot live without. If you know nothing else, this is what you need to know. This letter is packed with exceptional content.

The first three chapters of Ephesians unfolds for the readers of Paul’s letter God’s great mystery and plan for the church, and he has prayed an awe-inspiring prayer that they might know all of Christ’s love and all of his blessings. Then, beginning in chapter four, there is a turn to focus on how this theology impacts us as followers of Jesus.

This is the same pattern found in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Romans 1-8 focuses on the theology of the church, 9-11 focuses on Paul’s concern for his fellow Jews who, for the most part, were resisting the good news of Jesus, and then in chapter 12 he begins:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God

Paul writes in chapters 12-16 about how the theology of the church impacts us in our daily living. He does the same thing in Ephesians 4-6. After laying the foundation for us in the first half of his letter, he then urges us to live according to the theological truths on which we stand.

I began preaching from Ephesians after Easter in 2014, picked up again after Easter in 2015, and now will continue in 2016 for the next five weeks until we enter the season of Lent (the forty days before Easter) when we will focus our preaching on the gospels.

Ephesians 4 begins Part II of Paul’s letter and his first application of the truths of chapters 1-3 is a focus on the unity of the church.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This was the text for the last two sermons from Ephesians this past June. We are to reflect the one who has called us. As a prince or princess has the responsibility to reflect the king and queen, so do we have the responsibility to reflect God who has called us to become his daughters and sons.

And then Paul urges us to “bear with one another in love,” to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The church has not done well with this over the centuries. Rather than be united, we fight each other for power and control, convinced that our interpretation of the Bible is the correct one. We separate ourselves over minute theological details and struggles for power and control of the church, shattering the unity of the Spirit.

This works against God’s desire for the church and Paul reminds us that
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This brings us to the text for today.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”

Paul quotes Psalm 68:15 and the gifts he is talking about are spiritual gifts. Every follower of Jesus is given spiritual gifts. Paul mentions five of them in Ephesians: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Elsewhere in his letters he lists other gifts: service, exhortation, giving, leadership, mercy, words of wisdom, words of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, distinguishing between spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues, helps, and administration. If Paul had written more letters, I suspect the list of gifts in our Bible would be longer.

The point is that God gives special gifts that are to be used for the church. They are the tools God has given us so that we can work with him to build the quantity and quality of the church.

In the flow of Paul’s thinking in this letter, he lists gifts to show that in our unity God has created diversity.

We are to work for the unity of the church, but… When you see “but” you know there is a statement about to made that will clarify what has been said.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.

Our unity does not mean that we are all the same. In this way we are to reflect the nature of the Triune God we worship, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is perfect unity in the three persons of the Trinity and yet there is also perfect diversity. God is perfectly unified as one God, and yet God is perfectly diversified in the three persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

God created us to be in fellowship that reflects the relationships within the Trinity and that fellowship celebrates diversity while maintaining unity. We are created with diversity: in language, culture, personality, and our diversity is also reflected in the different gifts we are given within the body of Christ.

Paul talks about the way we are different as a grace. We do not receive the same gifts; we are given different gifts. We are to work to be unified but this does not mean we are all supposed to do the same thing others are doing.

There are many things God could give us. There is nothing beyond his power to give us. If God responded to our prayers, giving us what we want, we would receive from him wealth, health, and power. But God knows better than us what is best for us and the gifts he gives us are the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are to be used for the church, not for ourselves.

We pray for what is good for us and God gives us what is good for the church – which turns out to be what is best for us. We do not deserve any gifts from God, but God, in his grace, gives us what we do not deserve.

Why are these gifts given?
11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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.

These gifts are not given to make us great. They are given to equip others in the family of God  so they can work with the Holy Spirit in building up the members of the family of God. They are given so we can serve each other and grow together as a community that reflects the risen Jesus.

They are not given so we can make a living from them. They are not given so we can make ourselves great in the eyes of others. They are not given so we can amass power and wealth. They are not given so we can have powerful ministries. They are given so we can serve. They are given so we can encourage each other with the gifts we have received to become more like Jesus.

What does the church look like when we don’t use the gifts we have been given? What does the church look like when the gifts of the Holy Spirit are misused?
14 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 people in their deceitful scheming.

When we do not use the gifts we have been given, we are 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 people in their deceitful scheming.

Watch the televangelists on satellite TV and you will quickly see “the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” I read an account this week of two televangelists who talked on air on December 29 about why they needed their private jets. Jesse Duplantis and Kenneth Copeland said that without their private jets they would have to fly commercial, and that is simply not conducive to spreading the word of Jesus. They talked about needing to unbuckle their seatbelt to speak to God and said they would not be allowed to do that on a commercial airline. They complained that flying commercial was a hassle because other passengers would likely bother them with prayer requests.

Copeland added, “Now, Oral [Roberts] used to fly airlines. But, even back then it got to the place where it was agitating his spiritual. People coming up to him, he had become famous, and they wanting him to pray for them and all that. You can’t, you can’t manage that today. This dope-filled world, and get in a long tube with a bunch of demons. And it’s deadly.”

Poor us who have to fly in commercial airplanes: long tubes filled with drug addicts and demons.

The satellite channels are full of men and women who are deceiving the church with their false teaching, gathering wealth and power as they abuse those who listen to them.

Why is it that people so willingly and so easily follow these men and women who are misleading them “by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming?” Where is the gift of discerning spirits?

Clement talked last week about Elijah and Elisha and how Elisha followed Elijah to Gilgal. Gilgal was the place where the children of those who left Egypt needed to be circumcised after spending forty years wandering in the desert. This is the place of commitment to God. Clement warned us not to stay in Gilgal as spiritual infants. He exhorted us to grow in our Christian lives, moving from our conversion to spiritual maturity.

This was also Paul’s concern for the church. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: (1 Corinthians 3:1–2)
Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready.

I blame those who use the good news of Jesus to deceive others for their own personal gain – and God will judge them for their deceit. Remember what Jesus said, (Mark 9:42)
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.

But I also blame the many people who so willingly and so eagerly follow these deceitful men and women. Rather than seek the gifts God has given them and use their gifts for the benefit of the rest of the body of Christ, they follow these false teachers and seek the worldly benefits they promise.

Some people get excited about the increasing numbers of people in the world who identify themselves as Christians, but not me. Far too large a percentage of those people are using the church for personal gain, using the treasure of Christ to gain worldly wealth.

Paul paints a different picture.
15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 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.

Fortunately, there are also churches in the world where this is the practice. Each person uses the gifts they have been given to serve the church. The goal is to grow to be more like Jesus. The members of the church are held up and supported by each other. When the gifts of the Holy Spirit are being used, there is a wonderful community, an energy that encourages spiritual growth, a generosity that supports those in need, a passion to work with Jesus in the world.

What gifts have you been given by the Holy Spirit?

If you don’t know, do you think it is important that you spend some time and energy to discover your gifts? What happens on a football team when one player does not use his or her gifts? When a red card is given and a player is taken out of the game, the whole team suffers. If two or three players are taken out of the game, it is a disaster.

In the military, a team goes out on a mission and each person needs to do their job if the mission is to be successful. The lives of people on the team are dependent on each person doing his or her job.

You can stay in Gilgal and pat yourself on the back because you are saved. You can come to church and soak up the worship and teaching and preaching and then go home feeling good about yourself. But if that is all you do, then you are missing out personally on the blessings God has in store for you when you begin to use your spiritual gifts. And, in addition, the rest of the church will suffer because you are not using your spiritual gifts. One day God will ask you, “Why did you not use the gifts I gave you to help your brothers and sisters in Christ?”

This is not a trivial matter. Paul begins his application of the spiritual truths he laid out in chapters 1-3 with the need for unity and how important the use of spiritual gifts is to make that happen. In fact Paul talks about spiritual gifts in all three of his major letters: Romans, I Corinthians, and Ephesians.

If you are serious about growing in your faith and working with Jesus, you cannot avoid the need to discover and develop the gifts the Holy Spirit has given you.  If you are not familiar with spiritual gifts, it would be worth your time to study this in a small group with some other people. I have resources that can help you do this.

Are you using the spiritual gifts the Holy Spirit has given you? How are you doing that? You may only be in Rabat for a short period of time but for the time you are here, the community of RIC needs you to use your gifts. Let’s say that you are here for just six months. If the only thing you were able to do in those six months was to lead a small group of people and encourage them in their faith, that would be a blessing. Paul sometimes spent just a few weeks in a city before he was kicked out but the use of his gifts in those few weeks resulted in an ongoing community of followers of Jesus.

When someone at your school or workplace shares something they are anxious about, do you offer to pray with them? When someone is sick, do you offer to pray with them for healing? When you have a sense that someone is giving in to temptation or about to make a choice that will not be helpful, are you willing to speak the truth in love and encourage that person to think more carefully before deciding what to do?

How has God gifted you to support and encourage the church? The church needs you to use your gifts.

Let me make one final exhortation. I worry about people who leave RIC and head back to their home countries. There are so many churches with leaders who are using and abusing their flock to make themselves powerful and wealthy. I want you to pray for discernment and think about what is being preached and taught. The spiritual gifts are given to serve the church and when you see a pastor who is loving and serving his flock, that is a good thing. But when you see a pastor who is drawing attention to himself, demanding that people treat him with respect, and living an extravagant life, then that is a pastor to avoid.

Don’t blindly follow any leader. Luke praised the Bereans in (Acts 17:11)
Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

You are responsible for the leaders you follow. Use the mind God gave you, examine the Scriptures, pray for discernment, and follow those who will lead you to spiritual maturity in Christ.

We were created to be in relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We are to be unified as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unified. How do we seek unity? We become unified as each member of the body of Christ uses her or his gifts.

Don’t be passive. Don’t think you are not important. Enter into the work of your Savior and Lord by using your gifts to do the work he has for you to do. You are a valued member of his team and he needs you. Your brothers and sisters in Christ need you.