United by truth

Slices

Prepare

Birthday gifts are for the recipient’s benefit; God’s gifts are for the church’s benefit. Pray about how you are using the ones he has given you.

Bible passage

Ephesians 4:7–16

But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

‘When he ascended on high,
    he took many captives
    and gave gifts to his people.’

(What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 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.

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. 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.

Yellow flowers sky

Explore

Verses 7–13. Everyone in Christ receives God’s grace (v 7). This does not mean everyone has identical roles. Why does it matter that Christ both descended (to an earthly life) and ascended (to his heavenly throne) (vs 8–10)? Having experienced human realities, as well as having a cosmic perspective from heaven, Christ understands exactly what is needed.

What is the difference between the roles (v 11)? What is their common purpose? Does this passage subvert common ideas of those in Christian ministry? The ways in which we gain Christian unity? Or how we view our God-given gifts?

Verses 14–16. Paul expands on the meaning of unity. It is not enough simply to be together. We might be blown off course (v 14) by false teaching and hostile schemes; be immature (vs 14,15), not understanding the importance of ‘speaking the truth in love’ (both are important); or be disconnected from our head, Christ (vs 15,16).

These dangers can happen to any church, however active and ‘alive’. We can focus on uniting around things that are not the gospel; we can avoid confronting falsehoods or undermining practice; we can be so focused on our activities that we assume church life is a matter of keeping the clockwork going rather than depending on Christ.

Author
Mark Meynell

Respond

So pray! Be alert! (Ephesians 6:18)

Deeper Bible study

‘Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire / to work and speak and think for thee; / still let me guard the holy fire / and still stir up thy gift in me.’1

Paul was well aware that divisive personal issues arise in the local church. Sinful human nature being what it is, Paul knew that the exercise of what he always called ‘gifts’ was potentially a serious source of tension. The opening chapters of Ephesians stressed our oneness: children of the one God, one with Christ. There is no place in the church for divisions based on human biology, differences of mere ethnicity. Even if we had solved that tension – and we haven’t – personal tensions between individuals still remain, often born out of pride, ambition, self-interest or jealousy. A temptation for some people in leadership positions is to value power or popularity too much. A temptation for some people is to be jealous of others’ gifts – particularly the upfront gifts.2 Paul’s answer has always been that gifts are exactly that: gifts, given by God for the benefit of others and the building up of the church.

Maintaining the cosmic dimension with which the letter began, Paul recalls phrases from the psalms 3 underpinning the assertion that gifts could only be given as a consequence of Jesus’ having ascended higher and beyond all that is, and filling the universe. Only then could we be endowed with the gifts to grow and maintain the church until Jesus’ return. All gifts matter, but no gift elevates one person above another. No gift is to be idolised – or despised. The only gifts to be coveted are those available to all: faith, hope and love, of which the greatest is love.4 It is only right, therefore, that today’s passage ends with the greatest gift. Only when all members of the church are open, honest and loving with each other will we grow together into that unity which must mark the people of God. 

Awaken your gifts within me, O Lord, that I may serve your people. Fill me with your ultimate gifts of faith, hope and love, in your Son’s name.     

1 Charles Wesley, 1707–88, ‘O Thou who camest from above’  2 About 20 gifts are listed in Rom 12 and 1 Cor 12  3Ps 68:18  4 1 Cor 13:13

Author
John Harris

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year: Mark 4; Colossians 2

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