Lesson 27: The Exhortation for a Worthy Walk
As we come to chapter 4 of Paul’s letter we find him following a pattern that he often used in writing his letters. Having carefully described all of God’s loving and gracious treatment of them (and us) and gifts to them (and us), he now turns to the practical applications of those truths. Chapter 4 falls into 4 parts: in verses 1 through 6 he makes an exhortation for a worthy walk. He refers to this as “walking worthy of the calling with which we are called” in verse one. Many years ago in Washington, D.C. a police officer stopped a driver who was driving erratically and carelessly through the streets. When he was finally able to get the driver to pull over to the curb, the driver sprang from the car shouting, “Do you know who I am?” As it turned out the officer did know who the driver was; he was one of the sons of President Roosevelt and a decorated veteran of World War II. And the police officer summed up the situation with one short remark. He said, “Unfortunately sir, I do.”
Now believe it or not, there is a spiritual parallel here! For three chapters the Apostle Paul has been patiently teaching the Christians who lived in first century Ephesus about the riches of God’s grace in taking those ordinary citizens (and us) through a complicated process making them (and us) literally children of God. They have been chosen to receive salvation; then they have been brought to understand all about that process that had brought them to that point. And we have been studying that process in some detail for 27 lessons now.
Most of us, no matter how long we have been believers, still have a hard time thinking of ourselves as children of God, (and in most cases it would be hard for our friends, neighbors and co-workers to think of us that way too!) But that is exactly what the Word of God says that we are. Since we are His children God knew that we would feel that way, and so in the second part of the chapter, in verses 7 through 10 He describes for us the enablement for the worthy walk.
A few decades ago there was a slogan that said: Baseball is America’s pastime.” Nowadays, however, it seems that you could change that slogan to say “Sports (in general) is America’s favorite pastime.” But the teams who routinely make it to the playoffs and the championships of their particular sports are there for several reasons. Frankly it is partly simply because of “luck.” And it is partly because of the some of the other teams got some bad breaks of various kinds during the regular season. But by and large those teams are there because they are the teams that have most effectively discovered the skills and abilities of their players and which make the most use of those abilities and talents. And if this part of Ephesians chapter 4 teaches us anything it teaches us that the effectiveness of the body of Christ depends in large part upon the abilities of the various believers who make up that body.
To accomplish all that God has in mind for His body on earth we must know what those abilities are and develop them to the greatest possible extent, just as those successful sports franchises do. Now those spiritual activities are what we frequently refer to as “spiritual gifts.” And in the spiritual climate in which we live there is a lot of misunderstanding about the subject. What is a “spiritual gift” anyway? If we were to sort through all of the information available about spiritual gifts and distill from that a definition of spiritual gifts and boil it down to one sentence it would be something like this: “A spiritual gift is a God given ability for serving Him.”
The term “spiritual gift” does not refer to some special blessing that God reserves for a few “advanced” believers. It doesn’t refer to some kind of a “second blessing” similar to the joy of the time you accepted Christ and became one of His children. It doesn’t refer to some special relationship with God that comes to you if you read the right series of books or attend just the right seminar, or when you stay on your knees until you “pray through.” In fact there is really nothing mysterious about it. But rather, a spiritual gift is something that God gives to every believer, probably at the moment of his salvation, as an ability to serve Him in some specific way. In my opinion this doctrine is not only one of the most important doctrines in all of scripture, but also one of the most misunderstood doctrines in all of Scripture, probably because Satan himself knows it is so important, and does whatever he can think of to hinder Christians’ understanding of it. The importance of the doctrine is emphasized by the fact that it is taught in at least four places in the New Testament. Fortunately for us it is easy to remember the locations of those four passages. Two of them are in chapter 4 and two of them are in chapter 12 of different books of the New Testament. Those four chapters are: Ephesians chapter 4 and First Peter chapter 4, and Romans chapter 12 and first Corinthians chapter 12. So I say again, the fact that it is taught in so many different places demonstrates its importance. As a matter of fact, the fact that we find it here in Ephesians chapter 4 is another indication of how important it is. Because it is in chapter 3 that we find the great “mystery” of the unity of Jews and Gentiles together making up the body of Christ here on earth. And it is in chapter 4 that Paul is writing about the most basic element of the Christian life and message and that is the unity of believers for the cause of Christ.
Having explained to the Ephesians and to us the importance of that unity and having exhorted us to walk worthy of that calling, now in these verses he explains that the doctrine of spiritual gifts provides the enablement for this important responsibility We don’t have to serve Him in our own strength; God Himself has given us everything we need to serve Him effectively.
In spite of its importance, however, the doctrine of spiritual gifts is one of the most neglected areas of doctrine in all of the Word of God. And it may well be that that neglect has been orchestrated by Satan himself for that same reason. There are people who have been Christians for years who are really not familiar with this particular doctrine. One of the results of the neglect of this doctrine is what an engineer would call, “wasted energy.” If an engineer looks at a machine working at a high rate of speed but producing very little, he calls it “wasted energy.” In the same way there are Christians working busily for the Lord and yet not able to produce all they should be able to produce with that much expenditure of energy.
There are many local churches in that same situation. And the reason for that is that the doctrine of spiritual gifts has been neglected or even ignored.
Going back to our earlier topic of athletes and the optimum use of their talents and abilities, some Christians are very similar to an athlete who has talents that would make him an outstanding quarterback on a football team, and yet for one reason or another the coach has him playing on the defensive line!
Another result of the neglect of spiritual gifts is what we might call “unused potential.” That same engineer that we mentioned a few minutes ago might look at a machine with a great deal of power being used for a job that requires very little power, and his analysis of that situation would be “unused potential.” A less technical example of that situation would be trying to kill flies with a sledge hammer. And that, too, is typical of many Christians and churches throughout the body of Christ today. They have been equipped by God for a particular kind of ministry, but they are so busy doing other things that they may not even realize that they are gifted in those other ways. And all of this is the result of not understanding the doctrine of spiritual gifts.
Now here in Ephesians chapter 4, verses 7 through 10 we have the details concerning “the dispensing of spiritual gifts. And then in verse 11 we have a description of some of the gifts, and then the demand for (or purpose of) spiritual gifts in verses 12 through 16.
So let’s begin our study of the passage by thinking about the dispensing of spiritual gifts. And there are a number of things to point out about this subject. And because of that Paul gives us a picture of the giving of gifts in verses 7 and 8.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (8) Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.”
As Paul writes this verse it is as if he sees the risen, glorified Christ sitting on His throne lovingly dispensing gifts to His subjects. This is the Jesus who was born in a stable, and who lived the lowly life of a carpenter and itinerant preacher and who died the death of a criminal, now exalted to the place of authority and dispensing of favors. And Paul establishes that by giving us a quotation in verses 8, 9 and 10. The quotation in verse 8 is from Psalm 68. And in that Psalm David uses a word picture to convey the message. And that picture is something that would have been very common to everyone living in the Middle East in Old Testament times.
After a king or a general would win a battle in those days he would return to his home city in a triumphant procession. And in that procession would be his own officers and infantry men. But also in that procession would be the soldiers of the conquered army. The citizens of the nation would be lining the streets and cheering the heroes of the battle, and the procession would wind its way through the streets and to the capitol. And there the triumphant king would be seated on a throne in the midst of the cheering masses and then he would distribute to the people various gifts that had been captured as the spoils of war. And those gifts would go not only to the soldiers who had fought with him, but to the loyal citizens who had “stayed by the stuff” at home.
And that is the picture of God coming down to earth in the person of Jesus Christ and defeating the enemy of Satan and his forces in His death on the cross.
But then in verse 9 Paul reminds us of the price of these gifts:
(Now this, “He ascended:” what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?”)
Here Paul describes the whole process of Christ coming to earth and living His perfect life and dying as a criminal for our sins in the terms of “descending into the lower parts of the earth.”And through that death, burial and resurrection He has overcome the forces that threatened the very existence of the human race.
So because of that great victory, purchased at such infinite cost, the resurrected and ascended Lord Jesus Christ sits on the throne at the right hand of the Father and lavishly distributes to his children the spoils of that victory. And the spoils of that victory are the spiritual gifts that he gives to believers.
Now stop and think very carefully about this for a moment. Do you see what this does to the doctrine of spiritual gifts? It shows the very real pertinence of the gifts given Paul’s use of this illustration is designed to teach us that every spiritual gift that is given by Jesus Christ to His believers was won on the battle field. In those Old Testament times it was only because of the sacrifice on the battlefields that the monarch had any gifts to give. And in the very same way it was only because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the giving of His very life, that He has gifts to give to you and me. Every single gift was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. Do you see what that means? It means that it is a very serious thing to neglect your spiritual gift.
Another implication of this understanding of spiritual gifts is that it demonstrates Christ’s love for the church. Not only is his love for us demonstrated in His forgiveness of our sins, but it is also demonstrated in the fact that after He returned to heaven He did not forget about the church. When we look at a man or a woman who is spiritually gifted by God it ought to remind us of the love that Jesus Christ has for all of the members of His body. He loved us enough to provide that gifted person to minister to our needs, and therefore it would be a great mistake for you or me to exalt and glorify that person. Though we appreciate the gift, the honor and glory goes to the giver of the gift.
There is something else to think about in this regard. And that is that since the gifts were purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ at such a tremendous price and are given to us for His service it is a great honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve Him and one another in that way.
Verse 7 makes clear that these gifts are dispensed to every single believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. And this truth is so important that Paul wrote the same thing to the Christians in Corinth. Look at I Corinthians chapter 12, verse 11, where we read:
But one and the same Spirit works all these things distributing to each one individually as He wills.
Or if that is not enough, turn to I Peter chapter 4, verse 10 where Peter says,
As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
These three verses taken together make it very clear that you have a spiritual gift. I believe it is possible for believers to have more than one gift, but every believer has at least one.
Now there is a third aspect of spiritual gifts that is not touched on here in Ephesians, but it is very important to the subject. And that is the fact as to who is the provider of the gifts. And that fact is brought out in I Corinthians 12:11
But one and the same Spirit works in all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.
So you see, every member of the trinity is involved in the giving of spiritual gifts. They were bought by the Lord Jesus Christ, designed by God the Father and distributed by the Holy Spirit.
Now that verse has several important implications. First of all, it means that you do not need to be embarrassed that you do not have the same spiritual gift that someone has. The gift that you have was personally selected for you by God. And by the same token you should never look down on the gift that someone else has, because that gift was given just as personally to that person as your gift was given to you.
We have such a tendency within the body of Christ today to think that some Christians are more important than others, and to think that some kinds of ministry are more important than others, But think carefully about this: the ministries that you and I and others have, if they are a matter of using our spiritual gifts, are ministries that were also personally selected for us and given to us by Jesus Christ Himself! And that has another implication too. The gifts that God has given you are very much connected with His plan for your life. Why has He given you a particular gift? Because He has a plan in mind for your life for the use of that gift. And if you are concerned about knowing the will of God, one of the first steps you can take in that direction is to learn, if you don’t already know it, what your spiritual gift is.
Now let’s review what we’ve seen thus far. Spiritual gifts are given by Jesus Christ to His believers sovereignly as He wills. Although the scripture doesn’t specifically say so, we can infer that that these gifts are given at the moment of salvation. Now there is something else that is important to think about at this point. And that is that there are some Christians who have many human talents and abilities. And sometimes those people can rely so heavily upon those human talents and the human success that they bring that they rarely think about dependence upon the Holy Spirit. And that, of course, leads to that same wasted effort and misdirected potential that we talked about in the beginning of our study. No matter how talented or untalented a person may be, our focus needs always to be on the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the provision of His ability for whatever it is He has called us to do.
One last thing. And that is that spiritual gifts are a gift of grace. The giving of spiritual gifts is not based on the level of spiritual maturity. The Christians in the city of Corinth were a very immature group of people, and yet Paul said to them that their church possessed every spiritual gift. Spiritual gifts are given on the basis of grace and not on the basis of education. If they were given on the basis of education we would never have had some of the greatest people who have ministered to the church of Jesus Christ. Dwight L. Moody, for example, was used by God to stir revival across the United States and Europe in the 19th century and yet he had the equivalent of a sixth grade education.
On one occasion, having preached one of his great sermons, a woman who was a grammar teacher came to him and said, “Mr. Moody, how do you dare to preach the gospel when you murder the King’s English every time you do it?” Mr. Moody turned to her and said, “Madam, I am using the abilities that God has given me for His glory. How are you using the abilities that he has given you?” And, of course, that leads to a very important application. One of the things for which we will be held accountable at the judgment seat of Christ is how well we have used the spiritual gifts that God has given to us. God has not only given you a spiritual gift, he has given you time, He has given you the materials with which to work, whether it be study materials, or money or friendship with others, or contact with other people. He has given you a measure of health and strength, in short, He has given you everything you need to be able to fulfill the plan that He has ordained for you. Now it is up to you to be a faithful stewardship of all of that. Do you know what your spiritual gift is? If not why not start now to discover what it is. There are several ways you might approach this. If you have Christian friends who understand the doctrine of spiritual gifts, ask some of them what they think your gift might be. Look for opportunities to serve the Lord whether you think they might fit in with your gift or not. How did you discover what your human talents and abilities are? Probably by “trial and error.” You found something you thought you might like to do and tried it out. If you didn’t enjoy it enough to keep at it you looked for something else. And when you discovered you were getting better at it you pursued it further in various ways. And make no mistake about it, God will be pleased with your efforts and will reward them. He is the one who gave you your gifts and He wants you to learn and develop them.