Church by the Book - Part 1

Ephesians 4:7, 11-12

Tom Pennington  •  February 22, 2009
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The economic collapse that our country has experienced has created a lot of changes from Wall Street to Main Street and those things we're seeing all around us. Before the recession began, perhaps you read of it, as I had, that there was a growing trend in corporate retreats, and in corporate team building, to go further and further to the edge, to press to the extreme: survival adventures, mountain climbing, white water rafting. But perhaps the most unusual corporate team building adventure that I have ever read about comes from a San Francisco based company.

Each year (according to CNN Seagate) Technology spends $2 million for some 200 of its employees to spend one week in the mountains of New Zealand. It's probably the most extreme corporate event on the planet. In that week's time there is a 17-kilometer (or 10 miles essentially) trek through a bog that can be calf and knee deep at times. There is a punishing 5-kilometer slog on kayaks into stiff headwinds some 3 miles, an 18 kilometer or about 11-mile bike ride over treacherous mountain terrain. And that's just the beginning. Then there's dangling from cables over gorges with 200-foot drops, all in a day's work. There are spectacular other world or otherworldly vistas, there are (as the writer described) face plants into cold gray rivers, there are electrocution on high wire fences, twisted knees, swollen ankles and pulled hamstrings, and a whole lot of hugging and corporate crying.

Now, why would a company spend all of that money and put its employees through all of that trouble to go to New Zealand to accomplish those physical feats? Well, the theory is that being forced to work together under difficult circumstances will forge teamwork. A team that can work together, not only then (in those extreme circumstances), but in the circumstances of everyday work. The idea is that working together under extreme pressure ultimately breeds a spirit of unity and teamwork. While I certainly wouldn't recommend anything that extreme, there is truth in that theory. Because it is certainly true that when Christians work together in the context of the church, each using the gifts and strengths God has given them, it encourages it stimulates, it preserves unity among the people of God. That is Paul's message in Ephesians 4:2 - 16.

I invite you to turn there with me again, Ephesians 4, and we're looking at the paragraph that begins in verse 2 and runs all the way down through verse 16. Now this second half of Ephesians tells us that we are to walk worthy of our calling, and the very first way we can walk worthy is to walk in unity in this church in the church that God has created. That's the theme of the paragraph. If God has reconciled us to Himself and to each other (as we learned back in the first half of the book), then we must be diligent to preserve that real unity that the Holy Spirit created when He brought us to Himself.

In verses 2 - 16 Paul provides us with three means for preserving that unity among the people of God. Three means. We've looked at the first two and begun to look at the third. The first one is put on the attitudes of unity. There are certain mindsets, certain attitudes you find in verse 2 that encourage, that breed unity.

Secondly focus on the basis of our unity. Don't get caught up in trivialities. Focus on those bedrock doctrinal issues that bring us together as the people of God. And those are in verses 4 - 6.

The third means for preserving this unity that is created by the Spirit is: work on Christ's plan for unity. And that's beginning in verse 7 and running all the way down through verse 16. Work on Christ's plan for unity. Now, so we don't get lost as we look at verses 7 - 16 (because they're very complex), let me give you the outline ahead of time under this third point – work on Christ's plan for unity, so that you have sort of a road map.

In verses 8 - 10, there is the biblical defense of Christ's plan.

In verse 7 and verses 11 and 12 you find the five parts of the plan.

In verse 13 the ultimate goal of the plan.

And in verses 14 - 16 the practical application of the plan, what do you do with this plan Christ has created.

So, there's the biblical defense of the plan, the five parts of Christ's plan, the ultimate goal of His plan and the practical application of the plan. We're going to look at each of those as we flow through this text; all pursuing this plan in order to breed unity. The key point of this entire section is that Christ has a plan for His church, and if we will work on living out that plan, it will preserve the spirit of unity that God Himself has created among us.

Last time, we looked in detail at the first point, the biblical defense of Christ's plan, verses 8 - 10. Paul's point (as we saw), is that Jesus has the right. He has the right to create unity, to insist on unity, the right to distribute gifts to us, the right to distribute gifted men to the whole church, the right to rule His church. He has the right, and He has the right because He purchased it at the cross by a crushing defeat of His enemies. And then, like the ancient triumph march of victorious general, Jesus, as it were, ascended into heaven leading all of His enemies defeated behind Him and He gave gifts to His own from the spoil as a celebration of His victory.

Now, before we move on to Paul's next point here, there's one loose end I want to tie up under verses 8 - 10 and the biblical defense of the plan. I ran out of time last week, actually had this in my notes. It's a question a lot of people have about this passage, that's kind of an aside, but it's important for you to understand. Throughout the history of the church many have taken the phrase, notice in verse 9, "He descended into the lower parts of the earth…." many have taken that phrase to mean, (and they have compared it with 1 Peter 3 and come to the conclusion) that Jesus actually descended into hell after His death. Perhaps you've heard that taught.

Turn over to 1 Peter for just a moment, let me deal with this. First Peter 3, this is where the other passage that's used together with the one in Ephesians 4. First Peter 3:18, it says,

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the [spirit] flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which [that is in the spirit] … He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark….

So, what's going on here? Well, some would say that you take these two verses together, "He descended into the lower parts of the earth" and "He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison." You put those together and it must mean that Jesus descended into hell between His death and His resurrection. "This even", this phrase even occurs in what we call the Apostle's Creed. He descended into hell it says.

Although not everybody who believes and embraces the Apostle's Creed would believe that Jesus actually went into hell, some like John Calvin for example would interpret that simply to mean that on the cross Jesus suffered the pains of hell as it were as He endured the wrath of God on our behalf.

But there are some who believe that Jesus actually went to hell in that intervening period. Is that what happened? Folks, I challenge you to read these two verses carefully, study them carefully, and you will see that neither of these verses says anything about Jesus going to hell. Ephesians 4:9 simply says, "He descended into the lower parts of the earth." Could mean the grave or most likely (as I told you last time) the best understanding of the lower parts of the earth is that it simply refers to the earth itself. He descended from heaven so far down that He came to earth. And I showed you that it's used that way even in the Old Testament. So, Christ descended to the earth, that's all Ephesians 4 means. And then He ascended back into heaven.

But what about this passage in 1 Peter 3? What does this mean? Well look at verse 19, "in … [the spirit,] He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison…." [And they're the spirits] "who once were disobedient, when the patience of God was waiting in the days of Noah…. Now this is a very complicated Greek sentence. But let me give you the best interpretation and the simplest way to understand this. It simply says this.

In the spirit, not physically, but in the spirit, Jesus preached in the days of Noah through Noah while the ark was being constructed, and those who heard that message of Jesus in the spirit through Noah to repent and rejected that message are the spirits who are now imprisoned that is in hell. So, the simplest way to understand this passage and certainly Ephesians 4 is that Jesus never went to hell.

You say well what happened to Jesus between His death and resurrection? Well, this is another sermon for another time, but let me just give it to you the very briefly. His body went in the grave, that's clear. His human body went in the grave, stayed there in that tomb for that period of time.

His human soul went into the presence of God. You remember what the very last thing Jesus said on the cross was? "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." Jesus' human soul ascended as your human soul will if you're in Christ into the presence of God at the moment of death. Jesus' deity during that period of time (remember He was also fully divine), continued to fill all the universe as it always had and always will, and even during His earthly ministry the deity of Christ filled the universe. He was everywhere, even as God.

So, Jesus died and was buried. After 40 days, He ascended bodily into heaven. This is Paul's point in Ephesians 4. He ascended bodily into heaven, and as He ascended, it's like He ascended as a victorious General with all of the enemies He had defeated behind Him, not necessarily literally, but figuratively. That's the picture we're to get. He marches into heaven having routed His enemies, and as He comes in, He gives gifts to those who are His rightful subjects, and we're the ones who receive those gifts. Now that's the biblical defense of the plan – Christ has a right.

Today we come to the heart of the plan itself. Turn back to Ephesians 4. Christ has a right to create this plan, but what is the plan? Well today we come to the five parts of Christ's plan, the five parts of Christ's plan. What is Christ's plan for how His church, how this church should function? Perhaps no passage in all the Scriptures sets that forth more clearly than Ephesians 4 and the three verses we're going to begin to examine today. Ephesians 4:7, "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." Verse 11,

And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastor teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ….

There is Christ's plan for the church. And it's spelled out in those brief words, and Christ's plan has five distinct parts. This week and next we're going to look at each of those five parts together. But this morning we're just going to look at the first because this is at the heart of the plan, and it's so important to understand this.

The first part of Christ's plan for the church is this: Christ distributes spiritual gifts to His church. Christ distributes spiritual gifts to His church.

Look at verse 7. Verse 7 begins with a contrast. "But" or "on the other hand", you see Paul began this chapter by calling for spiritual unity. And then in verses 4 – 6, he launched into one of his most eloquent statements about the unity that we enjoy. But in verse 7 he says, but or on the other hand, to each one of us individually grace was given. Paul's point is that: for any church to be healthy, there must be the kind of unity that's described in verses 4 – 6, and there must be the kind of diversity that's described in verse 7. And the diversity comes from this; Christ has given every believer a unique gift. If you belong to Christ, listen carefully, if you are a Christian, He has given you a unique and specific gift to enable you to serve in His church. That's the first level of the plan.

You, Christian have a specific gift given to you by God. But what exactly is the gift, and how did you get, and why did you get it? Well those are the issues that this passage and several others in the New Testament explain, and I want to look at it together this morning. You're going to hear some things that are familiar because from time to time we've touched on these themes because they're so basic, so foundational to the life of the church. When I first came here, my first two Sunday's at Countryside Bible Church back in 2003, we looked at this passage.

So, let's look let's look at Christ distributing these spiritual gifts. What exactly is Christ's gift? Notice verse 7, "but to each one of us grace was given," to each one of us grace was given. Now what does that mean? Well Paul has used a similar expression earlier in this letter that really helps us understand, go back to 3:7, Paul says,

"of … [the gospel] I was made a minister, according to the gift of God's grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ."

What I want you to see in this passage is that Paul here is not talking about God's grace and salvation. Instead, he's talking about God's grace in equipping him to serve. Look at verse 8 again. "Grace was given" what, to preach. Paul says God gave me grace in order that I could serve Him. And notice (both in Ephesians 3 and over in Ephesians 4) "grace was given". That's passive the passive voice, the one who gave the gift isn't mentioned. This is what theologians call the divine passive. It's God who gave. God gave us this grace to serve Him.

It's interesting in various places throughout the Scripture all the members of the Trinity are involved in giving us the gifts we have: the Father, the Spirit. But here, Paul is especially emphasizing that Christ gave us these gifts. Notice verse 8, "when He ascended, when Christ ascended to heaven as the victorious warrior, He gave gifts to men." These gifts are the expression of His victory won at the cross. So, putting it all together, Paul, when Paul says that grace was given to each one of us, he means that Christ has given us the grace to serve God in a particular way.

The Greek word for "grace" is "charis". It's related to and very similar to the word that normally refers in the New Testament to spiritual gifts. The Greek word is "charisma", or in the plural "charismata". It means literally a grace gift. That's what charisma means a grace gift, a gift that finds its source in the grace of God. It's interesting in Romans 12, Paul uses "charis" grace and charisma or literally there "charismata together", side by side. So, this gift from God, that we have received, is an expression of God's unmerited favor to us. We didn't deserve it. We didn't earn it. He gave it to us as an expression of grace.

Clearly then, when you look at the evidence of verse 7 in Ephesians 4, Paul is referring to what we call spiritual gifts. The tense of the Greek verb "was given", describes something that happened in the past. This was an event that occurred at your conversion as a result of your salvation God endowed you with a special gift to serve Him with a spiritual gift with a charisma, all of us with a "charismata," the plural.

What exactly is a spiritual gift? Well my favorite definition of spiritual gifts is this. It is a unique capacity for service given to every true Christian that he did not po possess before salvation. Let me say that again, listen carefully. It is a unique capacity for service that is given to every true Christian and that he did not possess before salvation. You see a spiritual gift is not a natural talent. Your spiritual gift isn't something you were born with. You can exercise a spiritual gift through a natural talent.

For example, someone can be naturally gifted as a communicator and also have spiritual gifts that relate to teaching. I fall into that category. I'm told (although I don't remember it) by my family that when I was four and five I would, (I have, I'm the youngest of ten, and I'm told that I would) sit my siblings down on the couch and have a little stand there, and I would lead them in singing and then preach to them. So, it was in my blood from the earlies, but that wasn't my spiritual gift. That was simply a natural speaking ability. When I became a Christian, at that moment, God endowed me with the spiritual gift of teaching.

Someone may be talented at carpentry, may have learned that as a skill, and they can use that natural skill to exercise the spiritual gift of helps, helping others. But the spiritual gift is the gift of helps. Carpentry is merely an avenue, a natural skill through which they can exhibit that spiritual gift. Your spiritual gift is not a natural ability. And every one of us without exception has received a spiritual gift from Christ given through the work of the Spirit. Notice what verse 7 says, "but each one of us…." Paul includes himself and all of those who are reading this letter (or hearing it read) and all of us who are reading it. No exceptions, "but each one of us" every genuine Christian.

This is the consistent message of the New Testament. First Corinthians 12:7, "to each one is given the manifestation of the spirit." First Corinthians 12:11, "the Spirit distributes to each one individually." First Peter 4:10, "each one has received a special gift." Romans 12:3, "God has allotted to each a measure of faith." So, we each have a gift, but it's not the same gift. Scripture makes it clear that Christ has given every Christian a unique capacity for service in the church. So, what are the specific spiritual gifts that you and I can receive?

Well, when you look at the Scripture, the spiritual gifts are primarily listed in two passages Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. I encourage you to turn there not this morning, but to go there at some point and read the list in those two passages. When you read those two lists, there are then about eighteen total spiritual gifts listed in those two lists. Now, (when you look at the lists) there are two categories of gifts. And this is very important for you to understand. You look at that eighteen, those eighteen gifts fall into two basic categories. There are (the what we could call) the temporary sign gifts, and there are the permanent edifying gifts, temporary sign gifts and permanent edifying gifts. You say, why do you say some of the gifts are temporary sign gifts?

Well if you read the two lists, you will then see that the apostles practiced some of those things, and in 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul calls some of those signs and miracles and wonders the signs of an apostle. The seal, if you will, of an apostle. You see this even more over in Hebrews, turn there with me for just a moment. I want you to see that there were certain things specifically given to the apostles and those who traveled with them for the confirmation of their message and they were temporary.

And you see this even in Hebrews 2, notice verse 3. The writer of Hebrews is talking about the message of the gospel, the message of salvation that we have received, and he says in verse 3, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it …" [That is this message of salvation] "… was at first spoken through the Lord." [So, Jesus Christ Himself taught and explained the gospel message. That shouldn't surprise us. We read that throughout the four gospels.] [Then he says that same message,] "was confirmed to us by those who heard."

So, here you have two more generations. You have the Lord, and then you have those who heard. Those who heard were the apostles, the eyewitnesses, the sent ones by Christ to deliver the message. The writer of Hebrews puts himself in the third category. That's why I don't believe it was Paul. He says, "it was confirmed to us by those who heard." So, you had (remember Paul said he received his by direct revelation so that's why I, personally, don't believe Paul wrote Hebrews), but regardless that's another point. You have Christ, you have those who heard the apostles who then had delivered it, the writer of Hebrews says, to us. And it was confirmed to us, how? Verse 4, "God also testifying with them," [That is with the apostles] "both by signs and wonders and by various miracles" [And watch this] "and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His will."

Here you have the writer of Hebrews writing before 70 A.D. because he doesn't mention the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. And he says that even in his time those things were in the past they were connected to the apostles and not to him and to those to whom he writes. There were those unique confirming miracles and gifts of the Spirit which were given to the apostles and to those who were with them to seal and confirm their message.

So, we have to understand, then, that to each one there has been given these spiritual gifts. There are temporary sign gifts and there are permanent edifying gifts. You say well how many of the eighteen gifts listed in those two lists are permanent. Well, we can't be absolutely certain of that, but when you look at the confirming signs the apostles demonstrated, when you look at the evidence four of them I think were probably sign gifts and again that's a different message for a different time. But two of them occur in both lists, so when you put it all together that means probably about twelve of the spiritual gifts listed are probably permanent. And they may not be exhaustive; many scholars believe that this isn't like an exhaustive list of all the spiritual gifts.

In other words, these twelve permanent gifts only give us a kind of glimpse of the potential diversity that exists. But even if there are only twelve permanent gifts, the potential diversity for the church is huge, because those twelve permanent gifts become a kind of divine palette. It's not like God gives me one of those twelve and gives you another of those twelve, another person another one of those twelve. Instead, for every one of us God takes, as it were, that divine palette with twelve unique gifts on it (with twelve gifts on it), and He mixes from those twelve a unique blending for every person. That's why it's really more accurate to talk about our spiritual gifting than our spiritual gift because each one of us is gifted with a unique blend.

I've used the illustration before of oil painting. Oil painting is a is a kind of hobby is it when I've had the chance to engage in much recently, but many years ago, I took a series of courses on oil painting. And in the process of that, I took one course on color, understanding color. Maybe you know this and understand this, but it was fascinating to me at the time that there are three primary colors: red, blue and yellow. Now what's interesting about those primary colors is that none of those three can be mixed from other colors. You can't blend other colors and come up with any one of those three. They can only be derived from the substances in which they are inherent. And if you have those three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow you can create the entire range of tone and color. Every color and shade and hue you see can be created from those three primary colors.

Think about that. God only had three primary colors to make all of the variations of color and tone that your eye sees. Imagine the potential diversity of spiritual gifts when God has twelve primary gifts to blend in every Christian. A nearly infinite variety and to each one of us God has given that kind of capacity.

There's one more way I want to break down the gifts. Of those permanent edifying gifts, Peter does us the further service of breaking those permanent gifts into two categories. Everybody here can fall into one of these categories. There are (according to 1 Peter 4:10 and 11); there are speaking gifts and there are serving gifts: speaking gifts and serving gifts. That means that ultimately there are only three possibilities. Either you have a speaking gift, (and a speaking gift can be private exhortation where you're talking to one person and exhorting them to do the right thing to public speaking). And there, you may have a serving gift. So there's a speaking gift or a serving gift, or you may have a combination of speaking and serving gifts. I believe in my own case that to some degree there's a combination of administration on the serving side and speaking, teaching God's Word on the speaking side.

Now, you say, well that's great, I'm glad you know Tom, but how can I know. That's a question a lot of people have. How can I discover my own spiritual gift? Let me just (leave this or) touch on this before I leave this point. You need to understand that it's not hidden. God has no interest in hiding your spiritual gift from you. It's not like a game of hide and seek with God. There are some practical steps that you can take to discern where your special capacity to serve God lies. Let me give them to you very quickly.

Number one: study what Scripture teaches about the gifts. Study these passages that I'm commenting on this morning. Think about them, meditate on them.

Number two: pray for God's direction. Ask God to make it clear to you in His providence over time.

Number three: assess your own desires, strengths, and weaknesses.

Number four: seek the wisdom and confirmation of others. Ultimately the rest of the church is responsible to help evaluate your giftedness. You may think you're gifted in a certain way, and the people around may graciously try to direct you some place else.

And number five: just faithfully serve, just faithfully serve.

You see, we tend when we get busy to gravitate to the area of our gifts. I mean think about your physical body for a moment. Your heart did not have to fill out a three-page personality profile to figure out the role it plays in the body. It just functions involuntarily. God made it that way. And the same thing is true with our spiritual gifts. God placed us in the body, and when we get busy, when we get involved when we get active over time our giftedness becomes clear, and we gravitate toward that function God made us to do. It's not rocket science.

Why did you get your unique spiritual giftedness? Why? Look at verse 7 again, "according to the measure of Christ's gift." Why is it that you receive your gift and not what someone else has? It's in those few words at the end of verse 7, "according to the measure of Christ's gift." You have the gift you have because Christ measured it out to you. He not only (term) determined your gift; He determined the amount of gifting you would have. Christ in His infinite wisdom gave you precisely the giftedness He thought you needed to have and to use for the opportunities He was going to set before you.

By the way the New Testament constantly makes this point. It's so important to grasp this. Romans 12:3 puts it like this, Paul says, "… through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each the measure of faith." God decided the gift you would have and the amount of gifting you would have. First Corinthians 12:11, "the same spirit distributes to each one individually just as He wills." [It's His decision.] First Corinthians 12:18, "God has placed the members each one of them, in the body, just as He desired." First Corinthians 12:24, "God has composed the body."

One of my favorite texts on this issue (and I really don't have time to do this, but let's do it anyway), turn over to 1 Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 12:4 - 7. This is so foundational. Paul, as he begins to deal with the problems with spiritual gifts in Corinth, he's ultimately going to get to the abuse of tongues, but he begins by laying a larger foundation about the issue of gifts and in 1 Corinthians 12:4 he says,

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. [In other words, the Spirit determined the character of your gift.] Verse 5, … there are varieties of ministries, but the same Lord. [In other words, Jesus Christ determined the context in which you would use your gifts.] Verse 6, There are varieties of effects (or results), but the same God who works all things in all persons. [In other words, God sovereignly determined not only what your gift would be, not only how you would use that gift, in what context in the church but He even determined what the results would be. What the effects of it would be.] Verse 7, But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

God determined the gift you would have, how you would use that gift and even what the results would be. But God's sovereignty doesn't undermine human responsibility. God determined, Christ determined what you would have, but that doesn't mean you sit tight and do nothing. There're some things we have to do related to spiritual gifts. Again, briefly let me give you a little check list. Here's what you need to do in reference to your gift.

Number one: the church is responsible to evaluate a person's giftedness. I've already mentioned this, 1 Timothy 5:22, Paul says, "do not lay hands on anyone too hastily." Determine what their gifts are. Determine if they're gifted.

Number two: you can and should progress in the gift God has given you. You should show progress. You don't just say, oh well, you know God hasn't given me much so I'm not going to do much with it. Listen to what Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 4, "don't neglect the spiritual gift within you, take pains with these things, be absorbed in them so that your progress will be evident to all." You work on improving your career. How hard are you working on improving your spiritual gift? First Peter 4:10 says, "we are to use our gifts as good stewards."

Number three: you should soberly evaluate how your giftedness fits into the body. Soberly evaluate how your giftedness fits into the body. Romans 12:3 says, "everybody ought to think not more highly of himself than he ought to think, but to have sound judgment." Why does Paul say that in the reference to spiritual gifts? Because when it comes to our view of spiritual gifts there are two extremes. They're the same two extremes that were in Corinth. If you were to go to 1 Corinthians 12 and we had time to work our way through that passage, you will find there were two different groups.

There was one group in Corinth saying, "Woe is me, I have a measly, miserly gift, not much to do, not much to offer." And so, in 1 Corinthians 12, in Paul's analogy of the human body the foot decides I've got a bad deal here. My role is inferior. I want to be the hand. We're all tempted aren't we, to consider our own giftedness and to look at somebody else's and to be discontent? Why didn't I get that role? Why don't I get to do that?

The other extreme in Corinth (there is another sinful reaction we have) and that is to look at our own giftedness and consider ourselves superior to others. In Corinth you remember in 1 Corinthians 12 the head decides you know what, I am so good I don't need the feet. They can just go away as far as I'm concerned. I'm superior. We can be tempted to think that about our gift as well. We can be tempted to think our gift is superior in kind, in other words, the kind of gift we have may be a teaching gift is more superior is superior to that of a serving gift. It's a real temptation in a teaching church like ours to look down on the serving gifts. In Corinth they tended to look on all the non-tongue's gifts, you remember.

We can also be tempted to think our gift is superior in quality. You have a gift, someone else is using that same gift and what do you do? You kind of sit back and critique how they are doing. Well, I would do it differently if I were doing that. This is the temptation we all face. Listen to each one of us grace was given according to the way Christ measured it out. That means if you are uniquely gifted, there should be no pride because you had nothing to do with it. That's what God sovereignly determined. He could have put you as the little toe, as the pancreas but He decided to give you an elevated visible role.

On the other hand, if you find yourself less spiritually gifted, the knowledge that it was God's sovereign choice should erase absolutely every tendency to be discontent and to look at yourself with some spiritual Eeyore complex. Oh well, this is what God gave me I guess I'll just do it. Listen each one of us has received a unique capacity for service in the church measured out to us by God's wise and sovereign hand and we are to respond with gratitude and faithfulness.

Now, (as you look back at verse 7 in Ephesians 4) ask yourself what's the purpose? We've been given, all of us, this special capacity to serve, unique to us. What's the purpose of Christ's gift? Well the immediate purpose of the gifts is found in verse 12 - the work of service. We're going to examine that in detail, Lord willing next week. But obviously the point is that we are to use our gift in serving the rest of the church. Other New Testament texts make this same point. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, "but to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good." God didn't give you that gift so you could make a name for yourself, so other people would think you're great. God gave you that giftedness for the good of His church. First Peter 4:10, "… as each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another."

John Calvin writes, "No member of the body of Christ is endowed with such perfection as to be able without the assistance of others to supply his own necessities." There are no islands in the Christian faith. We need each other. Your gifts aren't for you, they're meant to edify the entire church.

So, the immediate purpose of spiritual gifts is to serve the church, but the ultimate purpose is found at the end of verse 10, "… so that He [that is Christ] might fill all things." You see Christ's condescension to earth, His ascension and His giving of gifts to us were all intended to do just one thing: to exalt Him. To exalt Him until He fills everything in the universe with His presence, and He rules everything in the universe with His sovereign power. Peter puts the ultimate purpose of spiritual gifts like this in 1 Peter 4, he says, "as each one has received a special gift employed in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God, so that," for this goal, for this purpose, in all things. That is, as every member functions as it should – "God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever".

You see when each of us uses the gifts God has given us, and when others see the church working together in unity, it causes them to think more highly of God. Proper exercise of our gifts gives glory to God. When something works together, when a number of parts function together for a beautiful whole, it brings glory to the one who created it. I thought of that as I watched that magnificent opening ceremony of the summer Olympics. We watched thousands of people in concert providing that great spectacle. What happened in your own mind when you saw that? You thought, "Wow, what kind of person could have pulled that off and pulled that together, directed that?"

And that's exactly what happens when the church functions as it should. It brings glory to our God. So, the first part of the plan is this: Christ distributes spiritual gifts to the church. Now, let me give you several practical principles that flow from that first part of the plan. Here's what you can do with this this week. I want you to listen carefully. Here's the application.

Number one: determine to use your gift in the church as the channel through which your service to God flows. That's what Christ intended. If you're a believer, you have a gift and Christ gave you that gift to use, and He gave you that gift to use in His church. Christ only promised to build one organization, one institution. It's the church. And He gave you a gift for the good of the church, for the people around you. If you aren't using, can I put it this bluntly, if you're sitting here this morning, and you're the kind of Christian who comes and leaves, comes and leaves, comes and leaves, then you are sinning against the Lord of the church because He didn't create you and gift you in order for you to keep it to yourself. He intended that that spiritual gift He gave you at the moment of salvation be used for the good of the church.

So, start using your gift in serving your fellow believers here. If you have a speaking gift, there're plenty of places to use that from our children's ministry, our Sunday school, private encouragement, Bible studies. There're lots of places. If it's serving, there're countless ministries in this church that are waiting for you, serve. But use your gift. Christ gave you that gift for the good, for the common good Paul says, for the profit for everyone else. It isn't yours to keep and hide and do nothing with.

Number two: develop a constant awareness that God is sovereign in the gift you have, the context in which you use it, and the results. God is sovereign over all those things. Don't take any credit. Its God's doing.

Number three: learn to value the diversity that Christ has placed in His church. Be thankful everybody isn't exactly like you. Be thankful not everybody here is a mouth. Be thankful not everybody here is a hand. God designed the body to be distinct to each part, have its own role, value that diversity.

Number four: don't become proud because you gift is more visible, and don't become discontent if your gift is less visible. Jesus Christ Himself determined that.

Number five: (and this is so important) don't mistake the use of your gift with personal holiness. Don't mistake the use of your gift with personal holiness. You see you can be spiritually gifted and be a help to many Christians and not be growing in personal holiness. The Corinthians are a great example. The Corinthians were allowing incest, they were there were drunken brawls at the Lord's Table, there was petty infighting. But in 1 Corinthians 1:7 Paul says they were not lacking in any gift. At the same time Paul says in chapter 3, "brethren I could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of flesh, as babes in Christ."

Listen, you can use your gift well, and people can be helped. People may say you have benefited me, you have encouraged me, you have strengthened me and yet your own personal holiness be at a low ebb. Don't mistake the two. God can use your giftedness very affectively and you not be what you should be before Him. This by the way, explains why some pastor can get up and be involved in some terrible sin in his own personal life and people still benefit, because God is using that giftedness. As I often tell pastors when I speak to them and make this point, listen God once spoke very affectively through a donkey.

Number six and finally: determine to use your gift to build up your fellow believers and to glorify your Lord. That's why God gave it to you.

Let's pray together.

Our Father, these things are so basic in so many ways and yet so foundational to the function of the church. Father, we thank You that in the amazing mind of Christ, this is the plan. Father, we thank You that in the triune being that You are, You came up with this plan that You would gift every member of the body to fill a specific role so that together we would grow into the likeness of Christ.

Father, forgive us for functioning as if we could be islands, individuals without any real connection to the body. Forgive us for thinking like individualistic Americans rather than as Christians. Father, help us to see that's not what You designed. Lord, may every person here this morning, may every Christian in this church be committed to using their giftedness in the church.

And Father, if there are Christians here this morning who refuse to do so, I pray that You would put the hand of conviction heavy upon them, that You would give them no peace in their Christian faith until they obey. Lord, I pray not for the good of anyone here or any group of people here but for the glory of Christ this could happen, so that our community, so that those who look over our shoulders as it were, would see the church functioning and give glory to You.

We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.