Unity Not Uniformity
Unity is not uniformity. There is diversity of gifts, a variety of operation. "To each one of us was the grace given." None have been overlooked. There is no room for envy at the possession of gifts by others, or of self-glorying in the exercise of them ourselves; they are gifts of grace; they are to function for the glory of Christ. Grace and self-exaltation are incompatible. The grace was given "according to the measure of the gift of Christ." That is the principle operating in the endowment of gifts. To each believer grace for service is supplied upon becoming, by faith in Christ, a member of His Body, the Church. That is the significance of the past tense "was given." In 2:8 grace was mentioned in the matter of salvation: "by grace have ye been saved through faith." That gives us membership in the Church. In no other way is such membership possible. Here in 4:7 there is an added grace for functioning in the Body.
The Giver of the Gifts
"The gift14 of Christ" suggests the source of the supply, the fulness which there is in Christ, and the relation which each recipient bears to Him. Paul has already anticipated this in the preceding chapter. His own ministry of the gospel was 'according to the gift of that grace of God which was given him according to the working of His power.' "Unto me," he says, "was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (3:7, 8). In his case he mentions God the Father as the Bestower of the gift; here he speaks of Christ as the Bestower, a testimony to the Deity of Christ and His oneness with the Father. Whatever the nature of the gift, Christ is the sovereign Distributer. Whatever the degree of ability, whether the more highly gifted, or the less, the adjustment in the Body is His work. The measure of the gift is His.
The description of the varying gifts is preceded first by a quotation from the Psalms, which tells first of Christ's triumphant Ascension (verse 8), and then by a statement as to the antecedent descent which His Ascension involved, and the position and purpose of His Ascension (verses 9, 10); all this serves to establish the fact of His absolute prerogative and power in the distribution of the gifts. Let us consider this a little. "Wherefore He saith, When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men." Psalm 68, from which this is quoted, is a celebration (probably of a general character, that is to say, without pointing to any particular occasion) of Jehovah's victory over the foes of Israel and the deliverance of His people from the oppressor.15
14"The word dorea, "gift," is used (in the eleven passages where it is found in the New Testament) only of spiritual gifts bestowed by Divine grace. This word and dorema, which has the same meaning, and is found only in Romans 5:16 and James 1:17, are to be distinguished from dosis, which directs the thought more particularly to the act of giving; dosis is used only in Philippians 4:15, "giving and receiving," and in James 1:17, which, taking the RX. margin, reads, "Every good giving (dosis. the act) and every perfect boon (dorenia, the concrete gift)." Here in Ephesians 4:7 the phrase "the gift of Christ" is not "the gift possessed by or consisting of Christ," but "the gift bestowed by Him." There is a further word, charisnou, signifying distinctly "a gift of grace," and though this is not used in the Epistle to the Ephesians, yet it is connected with the bestowment of grace (charis), as in chapter 3:7, as well as the present passage.
15The phrase "to lead captivity captive," was used to express the completeness of a victory, as demonstrated by the multitude of captives taken. Cp. the words of Deborah's song in Judges 5:12. The abstract noun "captivity," stands apparently for the concrete "captives," thereby adding force to the expression. No intimation is given in Ephesians 4:9 as to who the captives were. The statement has been regarded as referring to the release of the spirits of the just from Hades and their transference by Christ into Heaven. Not improbably the reference is directly to the complete victory of Christ over the spiritual foe, which had formerly triumphed over his captives (cp. Is. 14:2). All the efforts to oppose the designs of God in the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, had been frustrated, and now, as a result of what had been accomplished, and in virtue of the glory and power of His own Person as the triumphant one over him who had the power of death, as the Liberator of His redeemed and as Head of the Church in His place of high exaltation, He "gave gifts unto men," i.e., those on whose behalf He had triumphed (Acts 2:33).
Christ's Unchanged Personality
The next verses lay special stress upon the fact of His descent and then upon the identity of His Person as the One who having descended likewise ascended. "Now this, He ascended, what is it but that He also descended into the lower parts of the earth?" (verse 9). Opinions vary as to whether this means the descent into Hades after His death, or whether the reference is to His Incarnation. In the latter case the phrase, "lower parts of the earth," means the earth as consisting of the parts lower than heaven. Whatever may be the intention in the statement, the great fact stands out that Christ could not be the Ascended One if He had not first descended. It is a confirmation of His pre-existence, and served to counteract the erroneous Gnostic theories being promulgated in the Apostles' times. So again, in the next statement, "He that descended is the same also that ascended, far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things." Changes of locality meant no change in His humanity.
The Giver of the gifts is One who ascended with unchanged personality. Coming down from heaven to enter upon a life of true manhood, and having become, by His Death and Resurrection, the Victor over death and him that had the power of it, He ascended in His glorified humanity to His place of authority at the Father's right hand. As Son of Man, while still Son of God, He had experienced all human conditions, sin apart, and still with undissociated Godhood and manhood He ascended far above all the heavens, that filling all things He might meet the needs of His Church. The One who supplies the gifts is as absolutely cognizant of human needs as He was m the days of His flesh. He is therefore entirely fitted to give gifts to His Church, assigning to each his appropriate work. This is indicated by the emphatic pronoun in the original; "He Himself gave," that is to say, He and no other is the Provider and Bestower of the gifts.
The Variety of the Gifts
"And He gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers." Human appointment has no place here. The list is a series not of formal offices but of the exercise of spiritual gifts bestowed by the Lord. The apostles and prophets fulfilled an initial ministry in laying the foundations of doctrine. The revelation given to the apostles was likewise communicated to the prophets (see 3:5). Evangelists, pastors and teachers communicated the truth already received in respect of the gospel and the ministry of the truths of the faith. The work of the apostles and prophets was distinctly supernatural and temporary, until the completion of the Divine revelation. The work of evangelists, pastors and teachers continued and still continues. The last two are associated in a special way, as one who teaches thereby engages in a measure of pastoral work.
The provision of these spiritual gifts by the ascended Lord was for the perfecting of the saints, that is to say, for the development and equipment of each member, with the following twofold object in view:(1) "unto the work of ministering,"16 that is to say, for service in all its various forms, each in harmonious relationship with others (a general ministry in which we all share), and (2) "unto the building up of the Body of Christ." What this verse plainly sets forth is that both the service and the building up of the Body, by gathering in new members and consolidating the work, are to be rendered by all the saints. In other words, the provision of the spiritual gifts mentioned is to enable all the saints both to serve and to do the work of building up of the Body, and this "till we all come in the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
16Diakonia is "service," "ministering," not "the ministry," as if signifying the present technical sense of an ordained set of ministers. The prepositions pros and eis, in verse 12, make clear the order intended. Pros, "for," "with a view to," introduces the phrase "the perfecting of the saints; on the other hand, the preposition eis, "unto," is used to introduce each of the two following clauses, "the work of ministering," and "the building up of the body of Christ," showing that both the ministering and the building up are intended to be the work of all the saints.
The Completion of the Body
There are three parts to the subject of the unity of the Spirit in the 4th chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians:
(1) As to its essentials (verses 1-6); (2) as to its development (verses 7-12, 14-16); (3) as to its ultimate state (verse 13). In the first part, the unity, which is sevenfold, provides the standard of conduct consistent with our calling. In the second part the unity is shown to be developed by the ascended Lord, who provides the requisite spiritual gifts, the object being that the saints may be perfected in their service and may fulfil their part in the building up of the Church, avoiding error, dealing in truth and love, and so growing up into Christ in all things. In the third part the finality designed is stated, and is to have fulfillment in the completion and perfection of the Body of Christ.
In verse 13 the threefold use of the word "unto" (eis) should be noted: "till we all attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full-grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (R.V.). The 46 we all" signifies all believers as a Body, the complete company.17 The end in view, then, while it has its bearing upon the life of each individual, is yet the consummation of the whole as the glorified Body of Christ. The present operation of the Spirit in the process of building in regard to each member, is antecedent to the aggregate completeness. The perfect attainment is not possible for the individual in this life, but nothing can prevent its fulfillment in all the saints in the Divinely appointed time and manner.
17This is indicated by the use of the article with pantes, "all"; as we might say, "the whole of us" (cp., e.g., I Cor. 10:17, there especially of each local community).
Conformity to Christ
Again, the word rendered "attain," in its grammatical form in the original, signifies the point of time at which the end determined is to be realized, indicating the culminating event. The faith and the knowledge of the Son of God are associated as a unity. They will together reach their climax in the day to come. Faith is the outcome of, and is inseparable from, "the faith." The doctrines of Scripture, spoken of as "the faith," so called because they consist of what is to be believed, are not given merely as a revelation of Divine truth, less still as a mere subject for theological contemplation, but with a view to bring to us an increasing knowledge of the Son of God; an all this is a matter of faith on the part of believers. Here the word for "knowledge" is, more literally, "full knowledge," as in 1:17.
But this, again, is not a matter simply of personal acquaintance with Christ. It is rather that of conformity to His character, of the manifestation of Christ Himself in His saints. This is what is suggested by the phrase "a full-grown man." This, too, is what is borne out by the context, both immediately and what follows in the subsequent verses. The complete development is defined as "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ," for it is Christ as the Head of His Body who fills every part, ministering His grace and power by the Holy Spirit through His spiritual gifts in the Church. The fulness is that which is His in His own Person as the Head and by means of which the Body is filled, now as the members are united to Him and hereafter in eternal completeness. The present process of conformity to His character is brought out in the exhortations which follow. "That ye be no longer children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, in craftiness, after the wiles of error; but speaking truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him, which is the Head, even Christ from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love" (verses 14, 15, 16, R.V.).
The Wiles of Error
The first exhortations have to do with that which hinders the development of spiritual growth. We are not to remain as infants, spiritually immature in the knowledge and likeness of Christ. Our spiritual foe exerts himself in unremitting antagonism against all that makes for the glory of Christ. While, therefore, Christ provides those in the Church to minister the doctrines of the faith and build up the saints, the adversary endeavours to thwart this work by false teachings. These are spoken of metaphorically in two ways. They are winds of doctrine and wiles18 of error (R.V.). Winds are variable and irregular, wiles are ingenious and subtle. Those who are subject to such errors are like a rudderless vessel, tossed about on a stormy ocean. On the other hand, they unconsciously yield themselves to the craftiness of the Devil.
18The word methodeia is rightly rendered "wiles" in the R.V. in this verse. The Apostle uses it again in 6:11, "the wiles of the Devil," and it is found in these two places only in the New Testament. In 4:14, it is in the singular number; in 6:11, it is in the plural.
To give way to error, then, is to come under a power which prevents that spiritual growth into conformity to Christ which it is the gracious work of the Spirit of God to develop. In contrast to such hindrances, that which makes for spiritual progress is "speaking truth in love" (margin "dealing truly"). This is not a matter merely of the maintenance of moral virtue, it is a case of that conduct towards one another which is essentially the outcome of adherence to the truth of Holy Scripture and manifesting it in all our ways in the exercise of the love of Christ. "No lie is of the truth" (John 2:21). If I deal falsely I not only act contrary to the truth but stifle its power to work in me. I am robbing myself as well as injuring my brother, and above all I am grieving the Holy Spirit. The truth, the revealer of which is the Holy Spirit, binds together in love those who know it. Possession of the truth leads to walking in the truth, for the truth produces truthfulness (see 2 John I and 3 John 3, 4). The exercise of godly sincerity, of love that goes hand in hand with the truth, enables us with our fellow believers to grow up in all things into Christ. For such conduct is the effect of His own work as the Head, making increase of the Body unto the building up of itself in love.
Truth and Love
It is needful to give heed to the exhortation that, "putting away falsehood," we should "speak truth each one with his neighbour," remembering that "we are members one of another" (Eph. 4:25). Love and truth are never to be separated; they are intimately associated. Love that is pursued at the expense of truth is mere sentiment. While it may captivate the natural mind, it is not of God. It plays no part in the building up of the Body of Christ. Truth that is maintained at the expense of love is frigid theory. It lives in the element of legalism. Its effect may be the very opposite to that which it seeks to maintain. Faith, which links us to Christ, works by love and maintains truth, of both of which He is the source and which therefore in the life of the believer are expressions of His character.
When Christ fills the heart there is no room for selfishness. False teaching and deceit have selfishness as their motive. They belong to the old nature and are expelled by the love of Christ. They are superseded by that self-forgetfulness which seeks the interest of Christ and His people. Truth and love belong to the new man, "which after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth." It is only the power of the Holy Spirit which enables us to grow up "into all things in Him."to top