By Rev. Lance Filio
Our Triune God united us to him in love. As a result of our communion with him, we serve one another in humble and patient love. Yet more so, He who united us to him in love also unites us by the gifts distributes to build them up in love. God’s love is the cause of our unity and the manner it is carried out are by His gifts.
Verses 7-16 explains how Christ in his ascension distributes gifts to his people. The gifts he gave are men who gets involved in the ministry of the Word. These Word-based ministries build up God’s people. It goal it to protect them from falling into false teachings and to enable them to serve one another in love.
This is our preaching for this morning and we will hear them in two sermon points: (1) The Gifts of Ministry; and (2) The Goals of Ministry. But before we begin, let us pray…
The Gifts of Ministry
verses 7-11: 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,
We are dealing here with verses familiar to most us especially those who got exposed to the teachings spiritual gifts. Verse 12 is often quoted to justify the doctrine of “every member is a minister”. Under this view, each member is “equipped” to work in the ministry in the church. They receive instructions to prepare them for ministry. This work becomes the goal of ministry of the church. It builds up the church.
Yet studying verse 12 in context from verses 7-16 concludes otherwise. Instead of making everyone a minister, it properly places a distinction between ministers and members. And instead of making the clergy hood of all members the goal of the ministry, it leads us to conclude that the end goal is holiness or the building up of the body to love one another. Godly living comes from godly teaching. Because if the source is holy, then its fruit is also holy.
Paul in verse 7-11 reorients us to the holy root of ministry. God’s grace provides us everything we need not for our justification but also for our sanctification. God in Christ distributes gifts of grace to His people. God is the source of all Spiritual blessings. And in Christ, we receive them as part of his body. God sustains us with his grace and through Christ and by the Spirit, he rules and guides his church.
Looking at our text, we see Paul using Psalms 68 to establish the connection between Christ and these gifts of grace. In verse 7, he explains how God gifted us by his grace according to the measure of Christ’s gifts. In verse 8, he used Psalms 68 to visually compare Christ as victor entering the city after claiming victory over his enemies. The victor parades the spoils of war and he leaves them for this people to share. But in verses 9-10, he compares the victors ascension to Christ’s own ascension in heaven but points out it’s relationship to his descend from heaven. Paul wants to stress the divine source of these gifts to establish its continuing sustenance – the divine power and wisdom of God. This is the conclusion of Psalms 68 as a whole. At the end verse of this chapter, the Psalmist proclaims: “Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God!
What are these gifts? Well, verse 11 refers to them not as “what” but “who”. God gave men as gifts. He gifted us with Word-based ministries and begins with the extraordinary offices then ends with the ordinary office of pastors and teachers. The list of ministers Paul gives us here are meant to be understood not a individual gifts present at every period of redemptive history but developed then ceased between the apostolic and post-apostolic periods of the church. The apostles, prophets, and evangelists of the new testament era soon ceased after its foundational witness has been formed and the church is now sustained by the ordinary ministry of the Word by pastors and teachers.
The gifts of ministry God gave in Christ today is the ministry of the Word.
The Goal of Ministry
verse 12-16: 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. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Paul establishes the gifts of ministry as the Word-based ministry in the church. Next in verses 12-16, he explains its purpose and goal.
The purpose of this Word ministry is threefold. The first is for the equipping the saints for godly living. The second is for teaching them God’s Word. And third is for the nurturing of God’s people in the faith. Notice the rendering we used here makes a list of three purposes rather than the popular reading today where the first clause “to equip the saints” becomes the primary clause while “for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ” are related as secondary clauses under it. The point of contention here is whether the “for work of ministry” should be treated as the purpose given to the ministers only or is it the goal for the ministers to make each individual members of church to become part of the Word ministry as well (i.e. every member a minister slogan)? I am persuaded the former is true while the latter is a misunderstanding. While I have to concede that verse 12 can be rendered either way, I think the consistency in Paul’s thought and the witness of Scripture as whole points clearly to the primary role of elders and pastors as teachers and leaders in the church.
We read Paul’s charge in Acts 20 to the elders at Ephesus to shepherd the flock and to protect and nurture them echoes the message we are reading here now. We know even in the Old Testament how God appoints and anoints kings, prophets, and priests to serve and lead God’s people. We understand in the New Testament how Christ is the chief prophet, priest, and king and we share his office both in the church both in the special office of the pastors, elders, and deacons but also in the general office of believers as prophets, priests, kings for God in this world. So while there is a priesthood of all believers, this does not equate to the clergy hood of all believers. We distinguish but never separate.
So the work of ministry to build up the body of Christ aims to meet two goals. The first is to protect the church from falsehood and second is to nurture all members to love another. Simply put, the goal is truth and love.
Notice how Paul prioritize truth yet never neglects love. He retains the causal relationship in order to teach his congregation the logical priority of truth. The manner we build each other in love is not by any nude command to #JustLove but by exhorting us with God’s truth. We are first built up in truth then we demonstrate its reality by loving one another. Protecting the church from false teaching of “every member a minister” guards us from self-deceit and pride. It rids us of envy and discourages us to covet the gifts given to others.
Protecting the church from false teachings helps the nurturing of one another in love. Rather than pride, every member feels free to admit their own shortcomings and admits they need help like everyone else. They are encouraged to receive service from others and humbly comply with the call to love one another. It leads to humility like what we learned last week and it helps every one mature being patient with one another. They all mature in Christ.
Christ, where fullness of deity dwells in flesh, matures every one in his body equally by his Spirit yet matures them individually in the most diverse ways through ministry of the Word. He builds us up in the faith and brings us all in maturity by the power and wisdom of His Word.
ZCRC(Imus), Christ builds up his church through his Word and Spirit. He gifts us with men dedicated for the equipping, teaching, and nurturing of God’s people. He protects and nurtures us in truth as well as in love. May the Lord continue to rule in his church. Amen.
Rev. Lance Filio is a minister of the Word and Sacraments at Zion Cornerstone Reformed Church (Imus). He finished his Bachelor Degree in Electronics Engineering at Mapua Institute of Technology and He is currently taking his Master of Arts in Theological Studies (MATS) at MINTS. He lives in Taguig City, Philippines with his wife and three children.