By any measure, one of the greatest sports events in America takes place in the January/February timeframe. Along with the game itself come months of hype, as well as actual facts and statistics about the players and countless nostalgic commentaries on the past that might be of help in predicting the outcome of the game and set the stage for the next year.
The teams that have made it into the rarified atmosphere are there for many reasons. Frankly, it is partly simply a matter of luck. And it is partly because some of the other teams got some bad breaks of various kinds. But by and large those teams are in that game because they are the teams who have most effectively discovered the skills and abilities of their players an have most carefully developed plays which will make use of those abilities and talents.
Now believe it or not, there is a spiritual parallel here. Ephesians 4 is the chapter that tells us how we should live the Christian life. Paul refers to this as “walking worthy of the calling with which you were called. Inverse one. After making his “exhortation for a worthy walk” in verses 1 through 6, he now begins in verse 7 and going down through verse 16, to tell us about the enablement for the worthy walk that he has been talking about. And if this part of Ephesians 4 teaches us anything it teaches us that the effectiveness of the body of Christ depends in large measure upon the abilities depends largely 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, and then find effective ways of using those abilities that have been discovered and developed. Now those spiritual abilities are what we call “spiritual gifts.” And in today’s world there is a lot of misunderstanding about the subject of spiritual gifts.
What is a spiritual gift anyway? If we were to sort through all that the Bible has to say about spiritual gifts and boil it down to one definition it would be something like this: “a spiritual gift is God given ability for service.” The term “spiritual gift” does not refer to some special blessing that God bestows upon certain advanced believers. It doesn’t refer to some kind of a second blessing that comes if you are able to “pray through” or attend just the right seminar or read just the right booklet. Rather, a spiritual gift is something that gives to every believer as an ability to serve him in some specific way.
In my opinion, this particular doctrine is not only one of the most misunderstood, but also one of the most important doctrines in all of the New Testament. The importance of the doctrine is demonstrated by the fact that it is taught in at least 4 places in the New Testament. Fortunately for us, it is easy to remember the locations of those 4 places. Two of them are in chapter 4 and two of them are in chapter 12 of different books of the New Testament. Those 4 chapters are: Ephesians chapter 4 and I Peter chapter 4 and Romans chapter 12 and I Corinthians chapter 12.
So I say again, that the fact that this subject is taught in these 4 places demonstrates its importance. In fact another indication of the importance of this doctrine is the fact that it is found here in Ephesians chapter 4. Because it is in this chapter that Paul is writing about the most basic element of the Christian life and testimony, and that is the unity of believers for the cause of Christ.
Now 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 that “worthy walk” that is so important.
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. There are people who have been Christians for years who are really not familiar with this particular area of truth. 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 many Christians who are busily working for the Lord and yet not able to produce all that they should be able to produce. And there are many local churches in that same situation.
And the reason for that is the neglect of this doctrine of spiritual gifts.
It is very similar to a football player who is very talented in the areas that would make him an outstanding quarterback on the football team, but for some unknown reason the coach has him playing on the defensive line. The result of the neglect of spiritual gifts is what we might call “unused potential.” That same engineer that we mentioned a few moments ago might look at a machine with a great deal of power being used for a job that requires very little power and, and his analysis of that situation would be “unused potential,” or a more simple comparison would be using a sledge hammer to kill mosquitos. And that is typical of many Christians throughout the body of Christ today. They have been equipped by God for a certain spiritual task, but they are so busy doing other things that they don’t even realize that they are gifted in the way they are.
Now here in Ephesians chapter 4, verses 7 through 10 we have the details of 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) some of the gifts is found in verses 12 through 16. In verses 17 through 25 we will see the power of spiritual gifts.
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 in that regard. And because of that Paul gives us a picture of the giving of gifts in verses 7 and 8
But to each 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.
In these verses Paul is giving us a picture with which most of us are really not familiar. It is from the Greek and Roman civilization in which Paul and the Lord Jesus both lived. In those days when a king or a Roman general would return from a successful battle he would lead a triumphant parade through the streets of his capitol. In that procession would be his top officers and his soldiers. But also in that parade there would be soldiers from the defeated enemy.
The cheering citizens of the capitol would be lining the streets as the parade made its way to the palace. And there, the king would be seated on a throne with the cheering throngs surrounding him and he would distribute gifts from the plunder and spoils of war. And these gifts would be distributed not only to the soldiers, but to those who had protected their home city during the battle. And that is the picture of God coming down to earth in the person of Christ and defeating Satan, the enemy and his forces by His death on the cross, and then giving to lavish gifts to His children in token of the great victory.
But then Paul reminds us of the price of these gifts in verse 9
Now this, “He ascended;” what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth.”
Now stop and think about this for a moment. Do you see what this does to the doctrine of spiritual gifts? It shows us that every gift that Christ gives to His children was purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. That means that it is a very serious thing to neglect your spiritual gift. Let’s look at this matter of spiritual gifts from a little different angle for a moment, shall we?
Those spiritual gifts are given to you and your fellow believers so that they can minister to them and they to you. The next time your pastor blesses you with the exercise of his gift of pastoring you and teaching you, just remind yourself that Christ loved you enough to give him the gifts and abilities that have been such a blessing to you. The next time the choir and the musicians in your church lead you in wonderful expressions of praise, just remember that that time of praise is an evidence of how much He loves you. And then when the time and opportunity comes for you to exercise your gift, do it with all you have within you, remembering that Christ has empowered you because He love you enough to give you that spiritual gift, or gifts, and thus be a blessing to others.
Now with that in mind, stop and think about how important it is that we not exalt the one who exercises his or her gifts but that we exalt the one who gave the gifts at such great cost.
One last thing. And that is that spiritual gifts are a gift of grace. They are not given on the basis of spiritual maturity – the Christians in the church at Corinth were very immature – that was the purpose had in writing his letter to them – and yet Paul said that their church possessed all of the gifts. Spiritual gifts are not given on the basis of education. Dwight L. Moody was an evangelist whom God used to stir national revivals in Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And yet he had the equivalent of a 6th grade education. On one occasion after 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 so badly every time you do it? To which Mr. Moody replied, “Madam, I am using the abilities that god has given me for His glory. How are you using the gifts that He has given you?