Maturity in Unity Necessitates Diversity
Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Passage: Ephesians 4:7-16
Worship Songs: Come Praise and Glorify; Oh the Deep, Deep Love; Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone); I Will Glory in My Redeemer
A call for unity is not a call for uniformity. True unity does not exist without personality, rather it thrives on the diversity of its members and their particular spiritual giftings. Such gifts are not meant for our individual benefit, they are for the benefit of building up our church family into maturity and Christlikeness, because it is Christ himself who came to build us up by laying the foundation in his life, death, and resurrection. Christ is the humiliated-exalted Lord ascended on high as King having descended to earth to bring us the gospel. In him, do we, as his followers, find not only our salvation but our ability to give of ourselves for the sake of one another in love. We look first to Christ, and then to his appointed officers: the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers as examples of what it means to build up the body. In these examples, we find instruction for how to live as one people under one God by the power of his one Spirit. No one is perfect, but the love of Jesus covers a multitude of sins and sinners who strive together through the diversity of their gifts for the holiness that is already ours and shall be ours in that final day.
- How has the truth of the gospel convicted you recently in how you live as one called to the service of others?
- Do you find yourself willing and ready to go out of your way to satisfy the needs of those who you call your church family?
- In what way has the gospel challenged you recently to sacrifice your own convenience, resources, or comfort to relieve the burdens and/or needs of one another?
- What are your spiritual gifts? Do your church leaders and pastors know what they are? Are they being utilized well in the church? Are you finding opportunities/being enabled to utilize them in a way that brings you joy and glorifies God?
- How have you been encouraged by your pastors?
- How have you been discouraged by your pastors (do your pastors know when you’re struggling)?
- How can you be encouraging a brother or sister this week to use their gifts in the church and for the church?
- Serving isn’t always easy, do you have the fellowship for both celebration and encouragement in the use of your gifts? Are you part of a fellowship or small group that encourages and celebrates the use of your brothers’ and sisters’ gifts?
Maturity in Unity Necessitates Diversity – Ephesians 4:7-16
One of my favourite things to play with both as a child and as an adult is Lego. In fact, I have a 1500 Lego piece Millennium Falcon and 1300-piece Wall-e sitting at home right now—I love Lego. Did you know that less than .002% of every Lego piece is defective? Roughly 18 out of 1 million pieces are unusable. They are an engineering marvel, and yet, on their own, very few of us think of the brilliance that each piece involves when we look at them. In fact, for many of you, you may associate Lego with yelling at your kids because they leave them all over the house only for you to realize that there are few experiences out there that compare with the pain that shoots up your spine and in the soft parts of your foot whenever you step on one. You see, on their own, Lego pieces are some of the most annoying household items that any person can own. Individually, they are useless, painful, and possibly dangerous. But when you take different pieces of different sizes, shapes, colours, and contours, and when you pick up the instruction manual for whatever it is you’re trying to build, you realize that as you piece these little blocks together you begin to create a foundation, which leads to glimpses of what is coming, and, hopefully, with some perseverance, you get to that stage where you have the final product sitting in front of you—hopefully, it looks like the picture on the box, and you no longer think of the annoying little pieces that your now finished project once was. Rather, you think of the masterpiece that sits before you—these blocks in their different shapes, sizes, colours, because you’ve followed the instructions, and you’ve used the pieces in the way that you’re supposed to, they’ve come together to form something quite magnificent—something you didn’t see before putting the blocks together.
Ephesians 4:7-16 tells us about those building blocks being put together to form that amazing structure called the church. You see, last week in chapters 1-6, we saw the big picture—the oneness and unity that the church is supposed to look like and the attitudes and actions that bring it about. But we can’t understand or see the superstructure, unless we first deal with the individual, component parts. We have to understand what our job is as individuals committed to one another before we get to a place where we are operating as one, faithful body. So, let us turn now to our text in Ephesians 4:7-16. TWoL.
But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says, “When he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is himself also he who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.). And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Like Lego pieces being put together to make an incredible building, car, spaceship, or city, many different pieces are needed, and like Lego pieces being fitted together into the perfect place, we, as Christians, must recognize, we’re not all exactly the same in what we contribute to the structure of the church, but every single one of us is necessary. Every one of us is useful. It is the diversity of our gifts working for the benefit of one another that builds the church and grows each member towards a deeper love for the gospel and for each other. So, our proposition this morning is this: Christ, as Lord, Equips His People with Diverse Gifts for Their Maturity as One Body. It is Christ who does the planning and the building, and it is Christ who turns us from useless individual pieces into his wonderful masterpiece, he is our focus this morning, and our outline reflects this:
- Christ’s Gift of Grace to Individuals;
- Christ’s Ascension as Lord of All;
- Christ’s Examples for Building Up; and,
- Christ’s Purpose in Diversity.
1) Christ’s Gift of Grace to Individuals
In verses 1-6, we are inundated with the concept of “one.” But here in verse 7, Paul starts by using the word “one” differently. Instead of referencing the whole, he references the individual, “But to each one of us.” Paul is not under the illusion that the church is simply an undefined melting pot—people do not simply disappear; the practice of sin does not simply stop. If anything, what we are conscious of as believers is enhanced. We’re made more aware of our sins. We’re also made more aware of the grace.
So, here Paul is dealing with calling for a unified faithfulness by dealing with our individual faithfulness. How are we to be individually faithful, so that we can be corporately faithful? The rest of verse 7 tells us: by exercising the gifts of grace that we’ve received from Christ when we believed in the gospel. Notice with me where these gifts come from—the one who designates what gifting we get is Christ himself. It is Christ as the exalted ruler over all through his work on the cross that gives bountiful gifts to every single Christian. Each of us has received a gift, and they are from Christ himself. Sit with that reality with me for a second. The one in all the universe who owed us nothing, came and died for our sins, giving us the greatest gift of all time—our salvation. Then, we’re saved, and he says to us, “I want to give you more,” as if we didn’t have enough in our lifetime to be grateful for. This is the extent of our Christ’s generosity. This is the depth of his grace. He gives and gives and gives because he loves us. Don’t forget church the love that we have from our Christ not only in the grace of your salvation, but also in the gifts that we often take for granted—those are from him too. He not only saves merely; he gives lavishly. He not only brings you out of sin. He brings you into glorious blessing. He doesn’t just forgive, but he gives you every tool to live and to live abundantly.
But we aren’t here to preach a health and wealth gospel. Yes, it’s true that you receive grace upon grace, but there’s an implicit application here. What you have received is from grace. What you have received is not from merit. It is not what you’ve earned. And this grace is meant to point us to two things. It is to point us first and foremost to the fact that we are sinners, poor and needy, with no rights in and of ourselves. We are broken and desperate for a Saviour to provide us with redemption and life. And he gives us more than we’ve asked for when we receive our gifts. As such, we do not think about how these things now belong to us. No, we think about what we are and have is entirely because of him, and this points us to that second thing: we live in thankful remembrance giving glory and praise back to the one who gave us what we do not deserve. Our lives are forever changed. We recognize that we don’t put our value in the gifts because we haven’t done anything for them. Instead, we put value in the one who has exerted himself and leveraged his own merit as currency for what we now have. You, O sinner, are sitting here, hopefully, today, because Christ has not only saved you but because he has gifted you in manifold ways—in ways you do not deserve, and those gifts are meant to point you, above all, to the one who has given them to you.
2) Christ’s Ascension as Lord of All
Recognizing that he’s talked a lot about the big picture of unity, the apostle goes from verse 7 into verses 8-16 to spend some additional time explaining what he means by our individual reception of gifts. Verse 7 sets the stage, and verses 8-16 follow with a “therefore” to show that they’re integrally connected as further clarification for what Paul wants to communicate.
And so, we’ve come to verse 8 where Paul quotes from Psalm 68:18: “When he ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” This quotation has given me headaches this week. It is difficult because there are differences between the original Psalm and Paul’s use of it here. I could stand here and give you all the details of how people have explained the differences, but because I love you, I’m not going to do that.
What I will say, though, is that Paul has made some kind of change, and it is to make the passage directly reflect its application to Jesus. The original intent in Psalms was its reference to God, or as some took it, as a reference to both God and Moses, but Paul takes this text from its context in the Psalms and makes its vision fuller. In fact, he doesn’t change the meaning of the text at all from what the Psalmist meant: God has rescued his people in the past and provided for them at Sinai through Moses, and God shall rescue his people again and provide for them in his victory upon Zion. So, despite Paul’s changes, they are changed only to the degree that the text is made more specific—where there was only figurative language referring to the actions of God before, there is now a literal representation in Christ—in his ascension to heaven, in his overcoming the forces of evil and taking them captive, and in his equipping saints with gifts through the Holy Spirit.
BUT even though the change is somewhat mild, Paul recognizes how difficult it is to interpret in this context, and so what he does for the rest of this section from verses 9-16 is he provides exegesis. Verses 9-16 are essentially a mini sermon from Paul where verses 9-10 explain the first half of the quote, and verses 11-16 explain the second half.
Looking then at verses 9-10, Paul explains that the one who ascends and takes captive a host of captives is Christ. But, in employing an interesting logic, Paul argues that Christ couldn’t just have ascended: if Christ ascended, then he must, also have descended. We’ve hardly moved one verse before coming to another difficult text to explain. What does Paul mean here when he says that he also descended into the lower parts of the earth?
Some have interpreted this to mean that Christ went to Hades, what the Bible also refers to as Sheol in order to preach to the dead, but the problem is that the text doesn’t say anything about Hades or Sheol. What the NASB does here is some interpretive work by saying, “he also had descended into the lower parts of the earth.” Whereas the ESV translates it as, “he also had descended into the lower regions, [namely], the earth.” This second interpretation has less to do with his visit to Hades and more to do with the incarnation, life, and death of Christ. As he has ascended to the highest regions to sit as Lord over all, he has also come to earth in the condescension of human flesh, lived the perfect life, died an unrighteous man’s death taking upon himself our curse of sin and death, then he rose triumphant over the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father where he rules as king forevermore. Thus, the descent, according to this interpretation, emphasizes both the humiliation and double exaltation of Jesus in his ascent, a theme that is consistent in Pauline writing. It’s also this second interpretation that matches the order of Psalm 86 where God descends to save his people and defeats his enemies, and it is after his victory that he ascends Zion as his dwelling place—so too does Christ descend to save his people, defeat his enemies, and only after his victory over sin and death does he ascend in glory.
Regardless of how you interpret it, the emphasis is on the fact that Christ is now Lord of all—he is exalted in both the upper regions and lower regions as ascended King. It is his presence that fills all things. His radiant glory is reflected in all the universe. He is Lord over all in both the physical and spiritual dimension. This is what Paul means by saying, “He led captive a host of captives.” In his death, resurrection, and ascension, he has taken captive every force of evil—not just the enemies of Israel, which is the initial context of Psalm 86, but to a greater degree now. He has liberated the children of wrath from their wrath. He has taken captive those things, which have prevented us from drawing near to him because he has filled all things with his righteousness and holiness—there is now no place for darkness to hide because Jesus is here, he has come, and he now reigns in glory.
Furthermore, first century Jews dwelling among the Gentiles in Ephesus would have known that in the Old Testament it is God who fills all things, as it says in Jeremiah 23:24, “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” But this authority is now afforded to Jesus. Paul is saying Christ, now fills heaven and earth. Christ is the Worthy One. Lord of All. Risen to Reign.
3) Christ’s Examples for Building Up
And the result of his going up and taking captive a host of captives, is that he, now, can give gifts to men as their Lord and Saviour.^ You see, he was prevented from doing this before, why because sin prevailed. The ways of the devil hid his light. But now that his light is free to shine in all places, people can come to him. They can know his goodness and receive his graciousness. And because Christ is ascended, because he is ruler over all, he seeks, now, to give us a taste of our inheritance. Not only are we predestined, but he adds to his grace by giving each of us gifts.
And the first gift he gives us, verse 11, are those who are examples, leaders, and ministers in the faith. Notice how Paul says Christ has ascended. If Christ is not with us physically, then who will continue guiding us in the use of our gifts? Well, one answer is the Holy Spirit. But his guidance is an invisible guidance. Who do we rely on as a visible representation of Christ? Christ’s answer: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and preacher-teachers. These men are both those who are gifts to the church and gifted by Christ himself, and they’re emphasized here because they are directly related to the benefit, holiness, and maturity of the body.
These four roles are what all other ministries and all other services in the church are based upon—the apostles established the gospel in Jerusalem and the world, the prophets declared and further explained their message, evangelists go out and spread this gospel from place to place. Don’t misunderstand. By evangelist, Paul is not saying some are gifted with evangelism and some are not. He’s speaking to the specific office of those tasked with going to a distant area and proclaiming the gospel in that context. And these evangelists establish local churches and place pastors, teachers as the officers in charge of continuing to proclaim the good news of the Bible week-in and week-out.
Those appointed to these offices—those particularly gifted with these abilities—have an obligation to ground you in the gospel and to instruct you in how to live lives in accordance with that gospel. According to Paul, our job as officers of the gospel is not just to nourish you, we are to point you. We’re to point you to the gospel. We’re to point you to the overshepherd who has given us these gifts. We’re to point you to the one ascended and worthy of eternal worship. We’re to point you to him over and over again, and by pointing you, we are to instruct you on how your lives do not belong to you. They do not belong to me. They belong to Christ and to one another whom Christ has given you as a family.
It is when we as undershepherds fail to point you to Christ. That is when you know that we have not been faithful to the gift that we’ve received. The moment I stop preaching the gospel to you, is the moment you have to pull me from this pulpit, because it is Christ that grounds us as his people. I am sinful like you. I am unable like you on my own. I am like that Lego piece that’s useless unless I receive instruction, and this Bible, this Word, it is our assembly instruction. It is this message of Christ crucified that grounds us all and equips us for every good work, so that we might grow as one. By seeing Christ’s love for us in his service, we are compelled to a similar service for one another, and our reciprocated love, this is what grabs the attention of the world as we go out to share the gospel—saying the gospel might open the door for people to come, but our love and intentionality for each other in the gospel is what will compel them to stay.
4) Christ’s Purpose in Diversity
And he equips each of us with diverse gifts. First, he gives the church ministers to embolden their people with the love of Jesus displayed on a cross, but it’s not just for your nourishment. I don’t stand here simply to feed you, but also to exemplify to you what it means to live your life to the glory of God through your particular spiritual gifts. I stand here to challenge you to come to church not to be served but to serve as Christ served.
Do you see how Paul says it here in verse 12? Christ gives ministers FOR the equipping of the saints. Another way to say it is that he gives ministers for the PURPOSE of equipping the saints. Equipping the saints for what? For the purpose of work—for the purpose of service. The church is given ministers so that you might know what it looks like to minister to one another. Not all of you are pastors and teachers, but you’re all being equipped for gospel service in some way—in many different ways. Those charged with preaching the gospel to you are simply pioneers, but pioneers are meant to set a pattern that ought to be followed in others who administer, encourage, help, are hospitable, intercede, etc.
These last 2 months have shown me the meaning of being constantly busy. Every moment has been filled with something to do. Yet, I can tell you without a shadow of doubt that my heart is full. It is full in our growing family. If is full in the fellowship of a new church. It is full in the prospect of new ministry. It is full in the anticipation of what God is doing in our lives and in the lives of all of you who sit before me. God has tasked me with setting an example for you, so that in your own giftings—in the specific ways that the gospel has affected your lives and your passion for him, you might look at me as one who looks to Christ, and see that you have an example of how to minister to each other and to the world.
And all of this service is meant to facilitate one thing: it’s to build up the body of Christ. Your pastors set the example for the purpose of equipping you so that you might work as servants in your many different capacities for one another so that the body might grow with increasing maturity. This is the nourishment. The thing that keeps the church going isn’t the preaching. It isn’t the evangelism. It isn’t the songs we sing. It’s the service with all of your gifts. This is how the body grows. Diversity is necessary for maturity in unity. The edification, the building up, the thing that grows us as a church to maturity is not what we receive for ourselves as individuals, it’s that we give as individuals with different spiritual aptitudes to others.
And we keep doing this. Week-in and week-out, we are instructed, we are equipped, we serve in different ways, and our service edifies until, as Paul says in verse 13, all of us arrive at the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God, mature manhood, and the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.
Do you see what Paul does here? He starts in verse 7 speaking of individuals, and he gradually builds on this theme of gifting for each person that flows from Christ to ministers to the saints—it’s like he’s talking about a hypothetical situation, something outside of us. But then we reach the passage’s peak in verse 13 when it’s no longer a hypothetical discussion about strangers, and he makes it personal. He says, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith.” The giving of gifts, the coming of Christ, the provision of ministers, the equipping of saints—all of it is for US. IT IS FOR ALL OF US. It is not I serve, and I get to heaven. It’s I serve, so that WE get to heaven. It’s a collective effort; it’s a group endeavour that takes every single one of us. No person makes it into eternity without a host of believers supporting him or her. No one can grow into maturity unless they’ve learned to give of themselves to others. I made much about what you get earlier in the sermon in coming to Christ, but now I’m making much about what you give. We get so that we can give. The gospel comes in so that the gospel might go out in word and in action.
And this collective striving and serving, it has an end. There is a goal that we are striving for, it is something we both already have and are waiting for at the same time. We are united in the gospel of faith, but we are still being united in the gospel. We have the knowledge of the Son of God, but we are still obtaining the knowledge of the Son of God. There’s a promise built into these verses, and it’s this: if you’re faithful to the call of your gifting and service to one another, then you will obtain that which you seek. You see, brothers and sisters, we do not strive simply for our own benefit. We do not even strive simply for our collective benefit here on earth. No, we strive because we’ve set our eyes on a prize far greater and more rewarding than any amount of our exertion. It is the prize of our faith, it is the knowledge of the Son, it is the maturity of our glorious bodies, it is the sight of the fullness of Jesus. We strive urgently for unity now with all our collective gifts because it is a shadow of the unity that we will have when we reach that final resting place—where every tribe, tongue, and nation will stand before God—when our faith is turned to sight, when our knowledge of the Son is brought into brilliant technicolour, when our bodies are shed of its corruption, and when we stand before Jesus in hopeful judgment. We strive as one looking to Christ, and one day, he shall be ours in full.
Verses 14-16 simply reiterate this. If we are faithful to the call of our gifts, if we seek to serve and to build up the body of Christ with our diverse abilities—as the limbs serve the body, then we will mature together. We will not be susceptible to the lies that once enslaved us and tricked us. No, we will be able to discern because we’ve spoken, and we’ve acted in Christ-honouring love for one another. We’ve confessed and heard the gospel. We’ve lived the gospel. We strive urgently in different ways for unity in the gospel. And in so doing, we grow. We become less and less childish and dependent on what people say is good for us. We get to the point where we know what’s good for us, but it’s only sustainable if we start and stay together doing the work, feeding the body, and growing in holiness.
Separated we are weak and sinful—we will fall and fail, but love—loving each other deeply covers a multitude of sins. This is the point of the spiritual gifts—not to make much of our own individual abilities, but to make much of the love of Christ in us as we love one another. Where do we see this better explained than in 1 Corinthians? This is why 1 Corinthians 13 is in the middle between chapters 12 and 14. In chapter 12, Paul talks about individual gifts. In chapter 14, Paul discusses specific gifts that certain members of the church were lording over others. But there in the middle lies chapter 13. Love is patient and kind, it does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. The greatest thing to abide among us as sinners is the love that we have for one another as those who have been loved by Christ. This is why Paul, here in Ephesians 4, says it twice—once in verse 15 and at the end in verse 16. How do we grow in maturity? By serving each other with our gifts in love. The way that we grow as one body with Christ as the head, the way that we avoid acting like children who care only about ourselves is by loving as Christ first loved us.
It does not ultimately matter how much you do. It doesn’t matter if you have ten gifts or one. What matters is the attitude of your heart and the intention that you use that gift or those gifts for the sake of serving your family, of lifting their faces to the joy set before them, of turning their eyes upon the Christ who came to save them. There are a variety of gifts, but there is only one Lord. All of these gifts are necessary for us to obtain a unity that pleases him. Christ, as Lord, equips his people with diverse gifts for their maturity, so that they might obtain their glory as one body. To his praise, glory, and honour forever.