Friday, March 14, 2014

Ascension Gifts - Part 5

The Gifts of Christ and Unity - A Summary

We have seen, that the passage under review, focuses not so much on the existence of the 'ascension gifts' as such; but rather on the contribution that those who are 'gifted' by Christ [inclusive of 'the saints', not just the 'ascension gifts'] make toward strengthening the ties between all believers in the community towards 'true' Christian unity thus ensuring that the message of Christ remains true.

We have also looked at some of these gifts, and how they benefit the unity of the church. The NIV does a better job than the AV in getting us to feel the emphasis which Paul lays on the subject of the opening statement of v. 11. The Greek uses the emphatic autos. "It was he who gave some to be apostles…"etc. He, the descender and ascender. He who "led captives in his train." He is the Giver. Here Paul does not mention all of the gifts the exalted Christ bestows on his church.

For a more complete catalog see chapter 12 of Romans and First Corinthians. Here he points only to those gifts which have a direct bearing on the unity of the church. "Some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers."


The apostles were called personally by Christ. From the account of the election of Matthias to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:21-22) we have also seen what other qualifications they had to have. They had to be eye-and ear-witnesses of the public ministry of Jesus from the baptism of John until the ascension. These apostles had the gift of inspiration.


That there were many prophets in the early church is evident from the many warnings against false prophets and from the special gift of discerning spirits which Christ bestowed on His church. Jesus warned against false prophets (Matthew 7:15) and foretold their feverish activity as Judgment Day drew closer (Matthew 24:11). John repeats the warning and urges his readers to "test the spirits" (1 John 4:1).

Some are mentioned by name: Agabus (Acts 11:28); Silas, Paul's partner on his second mission journey is called a prophet; a certain Judas (Acts 15:32), In the Corinthian congregation there were a number of prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29-33), It is not known whether all could foretell future events but we can learn something about their work from the effect it had on unbelievers. In 1 Corinthians 14:24-25 we are told that the unbeliever could be convicted of his sins and be moved to glorify God under their influence.


Philip is perhaps the evangelist we know best. He was one of the seven chosen in Jerusalem to distribute food. After Stephen's martyrdom he did mission work in Samaria, baptized the Eunuch of Ethiopia, and preached the Gospel along the coast of the Mediterranean from Azotus to Caesarea, where he located his base of operations with his four prophesying daughters. The work of the evangelists was like that of the apostles in many respects. It was mission work.


Paul listed "teachers" third in 1 Corinthians 12:26. Here he couples them with pastors and puts them in fourth place, an indication of the absence of rank among the workers with which the exalted Christ blesses His church.


The pastor's work of shepherding is assigned by Paul to the bishops and elders of a church (Acts 20:28). The work of a teacher was to strengthen the believers and train them in the art of Christian living.

The work of all these man was varied, indeed, but they were all alike in this, that they were gifts from Christ, gifts for the church to receive with gratitude and to use diligently so that it might grow in unity.

Unto Maturity

As we have seen, Paul points to the glorious purpose which these gifts serve in v12: "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up." Three prepositions are used here in the Greek, the first, pros, expressing direction and aim (toward); the second and third, eis, expressing relation (with respect to). So each succeeding phrase modifies the one preceding it, like this: The gifts of our exalted Savior aim toward preparing God's people; this preparing is to take place with respect to works of service; and the works of service pertain to the building up of the body of Christ.

The "saints," of course, are all Christians, each one possessing full forgiveness of all sins, Each saint is to grow and to become ever more well prepared for "works of service" (ergon diakonias). There is no definite article in the Greek, so the two terms really express one compound concept, that of service work. This ministry for which each saint is to be thoroughly equipped does not here refer to the pastoral office as such, but to spiritual service which one saint renders the other. The purpose of this service work is this, "that the body of Christ may be built up."


This grand purpose must be pursued vigorously "until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God." The building up of the body of Christ, which is the church, takes place only as the individual members are built up, as they grow in faith, in knowledge, in understanding, in sanctification. The genitival "of the Son of God" is objective. He is the object of both our faith and our knowledge. We believe in Him and experience His blessings through the Word. The oneness in these two basic factors of church life, faith and knowledge, is the goal toward which we are working.

Paul defines this "unity" more closely with two appositional phrases. The first (andra teleion) is translated "unto a perfect man" in AV. NIV simply says, "become mature." Paul has reference to a full-grown, mature man, the opposite of what he in v.14 calls nepioi, infants. The second appositional phrase is "attaining the full measure of Christ." This goal, of course, is never perfectly attained in this life because of the Old Adam who still clings to the Christian. But we are to strive to reach this goal by continued teaching and admonition.


There is a very practical purpose in striving to reach the goal of maturity. It is this, that we outgrow the weaknesses of childhood. Children may be like a ship without a rudder, tossed back and forth on the waves or driven here and there by the wind. From this picture language Paul switches to plain talk. He is speaking of doctrine, of teaching. We may consider some doctrines as more or less important than others. Paul is concerned about "every wind of teaching." God has made provision (v. 7-13) that we may be able to stand firmly against "every wind of teaching." That's why He wants those saints who are still in the nepioi stage to be tenderly trained so they become andres teleioi.

Make no mistake about it, false teachers can be dangerously effective. Paul denounces them as toying with the most sacred things. He speaks of the "cunning (kybeia, i.e., dice game) of men." and of panourgia, cunning craftiness, a readiness to try anything, pros ten methodeian tes planes, toward the intrigue, the tricky expertness of error. This danger is present in every false doctrine. We do well to heed the warning. While v.14 stressed the negative, that we get rid of childish helplessness in the face of error's allurements, v.15 accentuates the positive. The verb of this verse is dependent on the same hina that introduces v.14. We should be mature so that "speaking the truth" we may once and for all (aorist) "grow up" in every respect in relation to Him who is the Head, namely, Christ.

Only the truth of the Gospel can effect this blessed outcome, for it is the power of God unto salvation. But we are to handle this truth of the Gospel "in love," lest our lovelessness hinder this effective tool of God's Holy Spirit. The very first fruit of the Spirit which Paul mentions in Galatians 5:22 is love, a love that is sincere, a two-sided love, hating what is evil and clinging to what is good (Rom. 12:9).

We are to grow eis auton. NIV, AV, and NASB all translate, "into him." But does a body grow into its head, and would it do so "in every respect," ta panta, as Paul puts it? Prof. Mayer suggests a different approach. Christ is the Head; the church is the body. Why not let eis refer to this relationship? By using the truth in love we shall grow so that in every respect the body corresponds to its Head.

Christ and HIS Church

Christ is the church's Head. But He means much more to the church than a head ordinarily means for its body. He is the source of all life that courses through this spiritual body. He causes it to grow. "From Him," he begins v. 16. But what from Him? The principal clause is: the whole body produces for itself the growth of the body, pan to soma, as Paul had pictured it in the previous verses. Poieitai is the middle voice: by and for itself the body works, again as outlined in the previous verses. What the body produces is ten auxesin tau somatos.

Paul describes the subject, to some, with two present participles, as in the process of "being joined and held together." This process has its source in the Head, but it is carried out "by every supporting ligament." The preposition dia governs the genitive tea epichoregias, which is modified by the preceding genitive pases haphes: by means of the supply of every joint. This is explained by a prepositional phrase introduced by kata: "according to the proportionate (en metro) working of every individual part," or (NIV) "as each part does its work." Each part of the body, according to the gift bestowed on it by the Head, makes its particular essential contribution, great or small, to the growth of the body.

The fruit of this growing process within the church is the "building of itself", growth from within. The church is a wonderful, living organism! And the life stream, coming from its Head and pulsating through its veins, is love, intelligent, purposeful love!

All of this is from Him who is the church's Head, Christ. It is He who founded the church by His descent and ascent. It is He who blesses the church with the Word of truth. It is He who bestows many special gifts on the church. Any error, no matter how insignificant it may appear, will adversely affect the health of the church. Any claim of personal merit will stunt its growth. Let us cultivate the unity of the church by nourishing our faith in our Savior!

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