After discussing the basis of our unity in Christ, Paul now explores how we preserve our unity in the church by using the various gifts Christ gives the church. “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift”; note that “each one” means that every believer is given spiritual ability bestowed by Christ to be used to build up the church. No one is left out and this is not limited to clergy; every member of the body of Christ is to use their gifts to build up the body.
“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: ‘When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.’(What does ‘he ascended’ mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe”.) Ephesians 4:7-10 NIV
Paul quotes Psalm 68:18 where God is pictured as a conqueror marching to the gates and taking tribute from the fallen city. Paul uses this image to teach that Christ, in his crucifixion and resurrection was victorious over Satan. When Christ ascended to heaven, he gave gifts to the church, some of which Paul discusses in the following verses.
Notice the parenthesis in the above verses. This indicates a word, clause, or sentence inserted as an explanation or afterthought into a passage. Paul explains that by “he ascended” it logically follows that Christ also descended. This phrase has been interpreted in three ways:
1. The traditional view, that this is a reference to Jesus descent into hell for the three days between his death and resurrection.
2. This descent is a reference to the incarnation, when Christ was born and became God with us on earth.
3. This refers to the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost after Christ ascended.
Sometimes we get distracted by the different analysis and fail to comprehend the big picture that these verses reveal. The Apostle John records Jesus speaking to his disciples stating, “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father”. And in 1 John he writes, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world”. Jesus Christ is Lord of the whole universe, past, present and future. Nothing or no one is hidden from Him. The Lord of all came to earth and faced death to rescue people. No one is beyond His reach.
Paul returns to the topic of Spiritual gifts, gracefully given to the church. “And he himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ”. The apostle Peter explains “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are to be used to build up the body of Christ and we are to continue to use our gifts “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature”. Paul calls us to be mature Christians and compares the immature to “children, tossed back and forth by the waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes”. Paul is emphasizing “body” growth; each believer contributes to this unified growth as he allows his particular gifts to function. This unity builds the body, strengthens the body together.
Christian maturity does not depend on your physical age or on how long you have been a Christian. From Hebrews we learn, the immature (infant) Christian is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness and the mature Christian becomes mature by constant use and training themselves to be able to distinguish between good and evil. The image we see here is like an athlete or musician who practices daily, building muscle memory that results in a flawless performance because of her training.
Paul warns the Ephesians about “the trickery of men, by craftiness with the scheme of deceit” by which immature believers are being “tossed back and forth by waves” of false teachings. Paul writes in Colossians 2: 4-8 “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ”.
Paul repeats these warnings in other letters, in Galatians he warns about people who “preach a different gospel, which is no gospel at all”. To Timothy he warns “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear”. To the Corinthians he warns of “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness”.
Paul continues teaching about how we become the spiritually mature, “by practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head”. In contrast to the preceding description of the false apostles who practice deceit, we learn that the spiritually mature preach the truth in both word and deed. Believers’ conduct should be transparent, revealing the true state of their heart as opposed to those who preach one thing and act differently.
Paul returns to the depiction of the body of Christ, “from Him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body builds itself up in love”. It is interesting that Paul uses the descriptive phrase “supporting ligament”. Here is a definition of how ligaments work: “Ligaments surround joints and bind them together. They help strengthen and stabilize joints, permitting movement only in certain directions”. What a beautiful portrait of the body of Christ, the church, as we use the gifts God gave us we are held together strengthened and stabilized. We are enabled to move together in God’s will to proclaim Christ, disciple new believers and to uphold each other in love.
“Christ forms us into a body – into a group of individuals who are united in their purpose and in their love for one another and for the Lord. If an individual stumbles, the rest of the group is there to pick that person up and help him or her walk with God again. If a person sins, he or she can find restoration through the church even as the rest of the body continues to witness to God’s truth”.