Since the giving of the Great Commission, the ultimate responsibility of the church has been to proclaim the Gospel to every end of the earth and to transform the believer’s inward character in order to manifest the character of Christ. We are not called to help people find themselves. The church is not a social community where we all “live our best lives now”. We’re not here to design programs and ministries that make us rich or bring us popularity and fame. The church has been designed and empowered by God to teach and instruct biblical truth so that people are transformed in their motives, desires, activities, and attitudes in order to become more and more like Christ. The church’s mission is to teach every believer sound biblical doctrine in order to build up corporate maturity so that we all may minister and serve one another in love.
The Apostle Paul shows us the structure to accomplish this mission in Ephesians 4:7-12. God’s purpose for the church is unity through individuals that are called to be one people. This unity among the church arises from the unity of God (Ephesians 4:3-6), being three persons, yet one God. The purpose of this oneness of the church on earth is to display unity through diversity. Every believer is unique, and every believer serves a specific purpose in contributing to the greater whole of the Church’s mission; just like how all our body parts are unique in their individual purposes, yet they all work collectively to help the body function in proper unison. Each individual believer enriches the church body through the diversity of their divine gift. These divine gifts are sovereignly distributed by Christ so that each person can serve and contribute to the overall unity and growth of the body:
“7But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.” 9(Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)” 11And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Ephesians 4:7-12; emphasis added).
In verse eight, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 which refers to God as the Divine Warrior who achieves a great victory over his enemies and ascends his holy mountain. Paul applies this wonderous imagery to Christ’s ascension following His victory on the cross. When He ascended back to the right hand of the Father he did so as a conqueror. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2:15). It is because of this victory that Christ distributes gifts of grace to every member of his body in order to nourish it and build it up for the work of service. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus tells his disciples, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” The exalted Christ is living and building his church.
In verses 9 and 10,Paul focuses on Christ’s ascent from Psalm 68 in greater detail in order to emphasize his divine right to universal authority and power. As John Stott explains:
“Christ descended to the depths of humiliation when he came to earth…. What is in Paul’s mind, therefore, is not so much descent and ascent in spatial terms, but rather humiliation and exaltation, the latter bringing Christ universal authority and power, as a result of which he bestowed on the church he rules both the Spirit himself to indwell it and the gifts to edify it or bring it to maturity.”
This magnificent truth is explained by Paul in his letter to the Philippians:
“5Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11; emphasis added).
But why was this necessary? If Christ was already highly exalted, being the second member of the Trinity, why did He have to humiliate himself? How much more exaltation did he really need? Because Christ was not humiliated for His sake, but for ours. Earlier in Ephesians, Paul explains that Christ’s humiliation was needed to conquer the forces of darkness that held us captive in order to bestow His gifts of grace upon us:
“1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:1-10; NASB).
Because of our sins, we were spiritually dead and unable to understand or serve God as we should. We were captives to the dark powers of this world, and were slaves to our lustful desires. Instead of desiring to love and worship God, we loved and worshiped only ourselves. But because God loved us and chose us to do His work for His glory, Christ came and set us free. In His humiliation He humbled himself by taking on human flesh and lived the perfect life we could not. He bore the curse of sin and took the wrath of God on the cross in our place. In doing so, he broke the power of death and set us free. “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14). God did this because of His infinite love, kindness and mercy. Not because we deserved it, but because it brings Him glory. And now that we are free from the domain of darkness and living in the kingdom of Christ, we are being equipped by Christ with spiritual gifts for good works, so that we may walk in them. We are building one another up through the teaching of God’s word, both serving and ministering to one another in love so that we may all become more and more like Christ.
Next time, we will look at which specific gifts Christ gave to His church in order to build it up and enable it to do the good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.