Ephesians 4:7-10

“Now grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. For it says:

When he ascended on high,
he took the captives captive;
he gave gifts to people.

But what does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower parts of the earth? The one who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, to fill all things.”

Pause spent the first six verses in chapter 4 writing about the unity in the church. He now turns from ‘the all’, the whole church, in verse 6, to each individual member, in verse 7. The church is one body, but we are diverse in our functions. Paul says in Romans 12: 4-5, “Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another.” That is the beauty of the church. While we are unified in function, we each have our unique role in making it work.

Paul writes, “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” David Guzik writes in his commentary, “We all have grace given to us according to the measure of Jesus’ gift. This is the basis for God’s distribution of spiritual gifts through his church: grace, the free unmerited giving of God. No one deserves or has earned spiritual gifts.” This is a gift of the Holy Spirit to each Christian as an ability for service. We will look at those gifts when we look at verses 11 and 12. Ray Stedman, in his sermon on this passage, said, “The gift that you have is not merely a natural talent, as many others in the world have as well. It is a divinely given ability requiring resurrection power to exercise it.”

In verse 8, Paul uses a quote from Psalm 68:18. The Psalm reads, “You ascended to the heights, taking away captives: you received gifts from people…” In this Psalm, David is calling on God to rescue his people and vindicate them as he has done in the past. John Stott, in his commentary on Ephesians, writes about this Psalm, “For he went and triumph before his people after the exodus (7), so that Mount Sinai trembled (8), and kings were scattered (11-14). Then, choosing to dwell on Mount Zion (16), he came from Sinai to his sanctuary (17) and ascended the high mountain, taking many captives with him.” Paul uses a similar imagery with Christ’s ascension because he sees a similarity with Jesus’ exaltation to the Father’s right hand as a triumph. We see in Ephesians 1:20-23 that Christ is exalted far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given.

You may have noticed the difference in wording between the Psalm and the way Paul quoted it here. In the Psalm, it reads that God ascended the mount and “received gifts from people.” Here in Ephesians, Paul says Christ “gave gifts to his people.” I read several explanations for this. Some commentaries say that the word could be translated either way. Some say he did this on purpose because we see many examples in the Old Testament where after there was a conquest there was a distribution of the spoils. Stott writes,” It seems possible that the Hebrew text itself may imply this, since the verb could be translated ‘bought’ rather than ‘received’, and it is surely significant that two ancient versions or translations, one Aramaic and the other Syriac render it ‘gave’.”

The last part of these verses says that Christ descended to the lower parts of the earth. The early church fathers thought it to mean his descent to the realm of the dead which is referred to in one Peter 3: 19, but later theologians think it simply means he descended to the earth. Jesus descended to the earth in his incarnation. It could also refer to the cross. We read in Philippians 2:5-11:

“Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,

who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.”

We see here Christ’s deep humiliation followed by supreme exaltation.

The church is losing power in today’s society because we have lost our way. The goal shouldn’t be to get people involved in mass protests. It isn’t to create activists. The best way for the church to become effective today is for each person to discover and exercise their gifts. Ray Stedman said this in a sermon 50 years ago and I think it is so true today! “The church has never any right to determine its own goals: it is here because the Lord put it here. The church is not here primarily to correct the evils of society, but it is here to declare and demonstrate the power of God in Jesus Christ. That will be the most effective thing it can do to correct the evils of society.” I think we are making the mistake today of trying to partner with the world in correcting evils in the world or (perceived evils). The problems happen when what the world calls good is sin, and what the world calls bad is what we as Christians are told by God is true and good. Pretty soon there is no difference between the church and the world. We need to get back to the word of God and what he has determined for the church.

Grace be with you!


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