Peninsula Community Church
January 11, 2015
Diversity in Unity
Ephesians 4:7-14 – But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” ( In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
I love a great action movie. I especially love those movies where the hero has very little hope of winning and yet somehow they beat the odds and win. This is one of the reasons that the “Die Hard” movies have been such a success. If you have seen the movies, you know that John McClane battles against the odds and comes out victorious, every time. He is bloodied and beaten but he is always a winner.
In the verse before us today, Paul relates just such a battle where Christ is the victorious one. It is possible that this verse might cause some confusion because of where it is placed in the chapter and the fact that Paul interjects this subject at this stage in the discussion. It appears that Paul gets distracted for a moment, but when we understand the context and the purpose of Paul’s inclusion of this verse, we will understand its meaning for its use at this specific time.
Paul references Psalm 68:18. David, the author of this Psalm, presents a picture of a victory celebration. When the army of David’s day would return from battle, the commander and his chariot would be at the front of the processional. This was a proud moment for the commander, the army, and the town’s people. Those on the parade route would shout, “Hallelujah, the victory has been won.” Following the commander would be all of those taken in battle. Not too far behind them would be all of the spoils of war. If the commander was a decent and honorable man, he would head to the town square where the celebration would continue. The leaders of the town would present the commander with the spoils of war, but being a decent man he would distribute these gifts to those who served with him as well as the members of the town. The idea here is that what the commander had received, he would give back to those around Him. In essence, he would receive in order to give.
In our text today, Paul is in essence saying that this is exactly what Christ did for us. He descended to earth and won the greatest battle of all time, the battle for man’s soul. Just as the general of old would distribute the spoils of war to His soldiers and to the town’s people, Jesus did that for us. You see Jesus conquered death, hell, the grave, and the power of sin. He led away captives, who represented the spoils of the spiritual battle, as he ascended back to His home in heaven. Just as the warrior leader did in David’s day, Paul makes it clear that Jesus distributed gifts to His body. Listen to Paul’s own words. When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men. What was the purpose of Him giving these gifts. It was so that the unity of the body of Christ could be preserved. It was so that each believer could be effective in their work as a passionate follower of Christ in their own way. It was so that in working together the Body of Christ would mature and grow into what God intended.
As we review these gifts, we understand that each gift is so different and yet God gave these gifts to effectively minister to those around us. The opening verse of our text clarifies these gifts were distributed by grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. That is, it is a free gift distributed according to His will. Who determines who receives what gift? It is Christ. Where does the gift come from? It is from Christ. How is the gift given? It is freely given by grace.
The fact is that Christ is the one who has distributed the gifts to His people but here is the amazing thing, He did not just distribute these gifts arbitrarily. He purposed to give each person what they needed individually to accomplish the tasks they had been called to. We should be aware that these specific gifts are in addition to the gifts already established through the work of the cross. We all have been given eternal salvation. We all have been given great grace. We all have redemption from sin. We must be clear that these specific gifts have been given to all of us, regardless of who we are. But when it comes to specific gifts, He assigns those according to how they will be best used by the individual receiving them, and to the measure that Christ believes they should be given out. He distributes to us exactly what we need, when we need them, to accomplish the tasks we have been called to. That is diversity in unity.
It is this diversity that often creates an atmosphere of division and disunity. As the gifts are distributed, we must be careful to protect the unity of the body by refusing to compare ourselves with others or judge another’s gifts. Remember the gifts are God’s and they are distributed by Him to those who may need them and will use them most wisely.
Another idea presented here is that these gifts were distributed for the health and vitality of the body of Christ. Paul states And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
It is clear that one the great gifts Jesus gave the church was spiritual leadership: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers. Each of these gifts have been distributed by God to lead the body of Christ toward a specific purpose and goal. Let me give a brief definition of each of these. First, there is the apostle. The term apostle means one sent and this role is defined in many ways as a missionary or church planter. The one with this gift often has a specific calling to multiply the church of Christ. The apostle is the one who has been given spiritual authority to reach and establish people in Kingdom truth and to bring order to the church, especially in founding and overseeing local churches. An apostle has a burden to build something that did not exist before. We have done a disservice to the Body of Christ by elevating people to the role of apostle when that is not the case.
Secondly, we have the prophet. Prophets reveal God’s heart to His people and give guidance to individuals. The problem is that too often those who might be given this gift tend to exalt themselves and develop a prideful, self seeking heart which results in division and pain. The third role is the evangelist. This is the one who seems to be especially gifted to share the message of hope with the lost and watch them come to the saving grace of God. The fourth role is the pastor or shepherd who has been given to protect and to guard the church. The shepherd deeply cares for the sheep and is ready to lay his life down for them. He longs to feed, grow, equip, and develop the church. The fifth role is that of the teacher who is called to instruct and impart divine life to their listeners.
The key note here is that there is diversity in the gifts but all serve to bring healing and growth to the Body of Christ. The gifts were given because there was a need to have diversity in accomplishing the work of the ministry. We must understand that it is possible that any one individual may exhibit any or all of these gifts at any one time and at different times. This idea of diversity is confirmed in Romans and Corinthians. Listen to what Paul says. Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them (Romans 12:4-6).
As we close today, let’s look at what Paul is saying. Christ was sent to earth as the God-man. In coming to earth, He gave Himself to fight the greatest battle ever fought. This fight was not for land, money, or fame. It was for the soul of man. We know the story. Christ willingly went to the cross which in many people’s minds was a great defeat. Even His disciples believed this was a defeat. This is in spite of the fact that He died on the cross, and was placed in a tomb, but when most thought it was all over, three days later He arose. This reminds me of the Easter Hymn that says Up from the grave he arose; with a mighty triumph o’er his foes; he arose a victor from the dark domain, and he lives forever, with his saints to reign. He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!
Can you see the picture? Christ returns triumphantly back to heaven, His home. And as the warrior of old would do, He distributed His spoils of war to those He loved. That would be us. Praise the Lord! May we shout and proclaim “Hallelujah, the victory has been won.” How do I know? I know this because I have received precious gifts from the greatest battle ever won.
Copyright © 2014 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom