Our text is Eph 4:8-12, dealing with the gifts the Lord has given to men. In this passage, Paul wrote about 5 gifts given to the church by the Lord Jesus Christ.
When Jesus gave the gifts – Eph 4:8. Paul started this verse with the phrase “Wherefore” (for which reason) he saith,” referring back to verse 7. And then Paul quoted part of Ps 68:18, “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men.” Paul referred back to this prophecy in the Old Testament regarding the ascension of Christ. Ps 68:18 says, “thou hast received gifts for men.” When Paul wrote it, he said, “and gave gifts unto men.” When you check the cross reference from Ps 68:18 on the gifts, you see that it refers to Acts 2:33 which says, “Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost…”. So, when Jesus ascended, he received the promise of the Father, which is the Holy Ghost, and in turn he, through the Holy Ghost, gave gifts unto men.
A parenthetical – Eph 4:9-10. Paul then wrote two verses to explain the phrase “he led captivity captive,” before returning to the subject of the gifts to men. Before Jesus ascended on high, he first descended into the lower parts of the earth, just like he said he would in Matt 12:40. Down there, he was with the souls of the Old Testament saints who were in Abraham’s Bosom, Lk 16:19-31. When Jesus rose from the dead, he took the souls of the Old Testament saints with him to heaven; that is, “he led captivity captive.” He took them up first thing Sunday morning, and then he returned later that morning. You can tell this because in Jn 20:17, Jesus said to Mary, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father.” However, just a little later, he appeared to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary as they were going to tell the disciples that he was risen, and “they held him by the feet, and worshipped him,” Matt 28:9. He had already ascended and returned.
What gifts Jesus gave – Eph 4:11. After Jesus “received gifts for men,” he “gave gifts unto men.” He gave some:
- Apostles – these were the original twelve, Matt 10:1-4, Lk 6:13. After Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ, he was replaced by Matthias, Acts 1:26. Apparently, after James was killed by Herod in Acts 12:1-2, Barnabas was chosen as his replacement, Acts 14:14. The only other apostle was Paul, who was “as one born out of due time,” 1 Cor 15:8. He called himself “the least of the apostles,” 1 Cor 15:9. The work of the apostles was completed at the conclusion of the period covered in the Acts of the Apostles.
- Prophets – these are men whom God gifted to preach future events as God revealed them, Acts 11:27-28, Acts 21:10-11. See Acts 13:1. Silas, who traveled with Paul, was a prophet, Acts 15:32. Today, prophets are not preaching future events as God reveals them, since these events are already disclosed in the Bible. They preach, however, like the prophets of the Old Testament.
- Evangelists – Philip was an evangelist, Acts 21:8. These men preached the gospel from city to city. After he left Jerusalem, Philip started preaching in Samaria, Acts 8:5. Then after baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch, he preached in Azotus, and then “he preached in all the cities, till he came to Caesarea,” Acts 8:40. From their preaching, churches were planted. Evangelists today are mostly missionaries and church planters. Some evangelists preach from church to church, but this appears to be a more recent way this gift is being used.
- Pastors and teachers – these men are called pastors and teachers because pastors must be “apt to teach,” 1 Tim 3:2. It takes preaching and teaching to “feed the flock of God,” 1 Pet 5:2. Unlike these other gifts, pastors oversee a particular church, Acts 20:28.
A person with one of these gifts was not necessarily limited to that gift alone, nor are men limited today. But the primary gift that he has been given will be evident. For instance, Paul told Timothy, the first bishop of the church of the Ephesians (postscript after the 2nd epistle to Timothy), “do the work of an evangelist,” 2 Tim 4:5.
Why Jesus gave these gifts – Eph 4:12. Men with these gifts have three primary functions in the church:
- The perfecting of the saints – this is for the individual saints. The thing that makes the man of God “perfect” is the scripture, 2 Tim 3:16-17. So, men with these gifts are to preach and teach the word of God so that the saints will be perfected. That is, the saints will be made perfect to do the good works for which they have been throughly furnished and to perform the particular function that they have in the body, in the place where God set them, 1 Cor 12:18.
- The work of the ministry – this is for the local church. Each church has its “work of the ministry.” That is, they have something, or some things, that God wants them to do. So, he has gifted men to organize, lead, and charge the members of the church to accomplish their work. Some of the principle ministries of local churches are teaching through Sunday schools and Bible clubs, evangelizing the lost through preaching, personal witness, and tract distribution, missions through giving to missionaries and going to the field, and prayer. As saints are perfected, they become more proficient and established in the work of the ministry.
- The edifying of the body of Christ – all saints together comprise the body of Christ. So, as individual members are perfected and local churches are strengthened in the work of the ministry, the entire body is edified (built up). Notice, we are “to grow up into him in all things,” Eph 4:15. The body is designed to “increase,” Eph 4:16.
Conclusion: thankfully, it is not up to men alone to accomplish the work of God on earth. The work is accomplished through men to whom the Lord Jesus Christ has given gifts. Men who have been given these gifts must not neglect them [1 Tim 4:14]. Nor should men, who have not been given these gifts, attempt to do this work without the Lord [Prov 25:14]. We must humbly receive what the Lord has given us and use it for the work he intended, rather than to promote ourselves or our ministries. These are the Lord’s gifts and they are for his body.