As we continue our journey towards Pentecost and the “Celebration of Unity” in Phoenix on May 23rd, we turn our gaze now to Ephesian 4:7-11, where we learn that Christ came down, took care of business for our benefit and joy, and then “went up to the very heights”, so we could be given the gift of the Spirit, one Spirit I might add, that fills and unites all believers.
The Gifted Body – Ephesians 4:7-11
7 Each one of us has received a special gift in proportion to what Christ has given. 8 As the scripture says, “When he went up to the very heights, he took many captives with him; he gave gifts to people.” 9 Now, what does “he went up” mean? It means that first he came down to the lowest depths of the earth. 10 So the one who came down is the same one who went up, above and beyond the heavens, to fill the whole universe with his presence. It was he who “gave gifts to people”; he appointed some to be apostles, others to be prophets, others to be evangelists, others to be pastors and teachers.
In many ways, this passage is filled with mystery, at least enough for us to sit back and acknowledge that God’s ways are not our ways. To what is Paul referring when he says Christ “went up to the very heights” and so on? For starters, he’s quoting what would be to the hearers a well-known psalm (Psalm 68:18). Before he informs the Church of the “gifts“ Christ Jesus has given to his body of believers, he takes our hearts and minds back to the biblical narrative of redemption.
If you were a first century Jew or Christian, you might have understood this passage to be referring to the days of Moses after the exodus from Egypt. The Israelites had been freed from slavery after four centuries, and sometime after, Moses ”went up to the very heights” of Mount Sinai to meet with God. When he “came down,” he brought two stone tablets on which were written God’s laws (Exodus 24:12-15; 32:15-16). The law was a gift to Israel to expose their sin and need for God, and also to give them a way to live in harmony and to display the beauty of God among the pagan nations.
It is very likely that Paul sees Jesus’ going “up to the very heights” as symbolic of a ‘new exodus’ with a ‘new law.’ The new exodus is Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection that sets the human race free, once and for all time, from the enslavement of sin and death. After his death and resurrection, Jesus went up, outside of time and space, and sat at the right hand of the Father. But this time, what will come down will not be a man with tablets, but the Spirit of Christ with power, power to give gifts to the people of God, and to establish his presence throughout the whole world. It is the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ himself, who is given to empower men and women to be witnesses and ambassadors of God. The new law is the great commandment: love God and love your neighbor (Mark 12:28-31).
The point of this text isn’t to argue over the different types of ministries that Christ gave the Church and whether or not they’re still functioning. Rather, the point is that God has given various gifts to the body of Christ to make his oneness and presence known. We will learn tomorrow that these gifts were given so that the work of God could be shared among the body to help Christians come to maturity.
A Prayer For Us Today
Christ Jesus, mysterious Lord and gracious Savior, you came down to the lowest depths, leaving the beauty and glory of heaven, and became a man. You faced our suffering and pain, and took upon yourself what we deserved. Now you’ve given us yourself in more ways than we could ever imagine. By your grace and mercy, you empower us with your Spirit. May we walk in the gifts and power you’ve given us so that we may be true representatives of Christ in this world. Amen
For Those Who Want to Go Deeper
God has given us gifts and asks us to use them. Do you know what gifts Christ has given you? Are you using them? Do you believe that Christ’s power is in you?
Our gifts were not given for us to abuse or overuse them. Avoid the temptation to dominate others with an ability you’ve been given. And watch out for burnout, using your gifts to do everything yourself. Use your gifts wisely, and surround yourself with others who have different gifts, so all can work together in unity.