Christ's Gifts to the Church (Ephesians 4)
Theoretically, every Sunday should be like Christmas morning. It seems to be the only day of the year, no matter what age you are, you're anxious and excited about getting up first thing in the morning. You want the gifts waiting under the tree. Gifts wrapped in pretty paper. Gifts that may have been looked forward to all year long. This is what Sunday should look like every week. Coming together in our Father's house to receive the gifts that He has prepared for us. Gifts we've waited for all week.
St. Paul tells us about a multitude of gifts from God our Father as we go about our lives in His service. "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (v1). Through these gifts God helps us to live those lives. With the first category of gifts, God equips His saints for His ministry.
The first of the equipping gifts are people. Paul says, "He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers" (v11). All of these equipping gifts deal with God's Word and its proclamation. God equips His saints with His Word. That requires people. In the age of the patriarchs, God spoke directly to them. With Moses, God spoke to him and he to the people. Moses was the first of the long line of apostles and prophets who wrote down God's Word so that we might be equipped better to understand God's will. Then God gives evangelists to proclaim the Gospel message in missionary situations. And then the offices of pastors and teachers were given. The men who hold those offices are the front-line of God's kingdom. They are the ones who apply God's apostolic and prophetic Word to the saints and preach the Gospel from the pulpit.
Through God's Word these people instill hope in the believers. God's Word brings us into "one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call" (v4). This hope comes from God the Father "who is over all and through all and in all" (v6). The hope is the message that Jesus has died for your sins. God's hope is delivered through these gifts whom God sends to His people. Hope leads to ministry. The knowledge that we have received the great gift of salvation motivates us to proclaim this message to those around us. St. Peter tells us, "in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). That hope is the assurance--not wish--that we will go to Heaven when our days are over. This assurance is firm because God builds up His Church through His Word.
His Word gives us not only the spiritual "milk" but also the "solid food" (1 Corinthians 3:2). And we are encouraged and instructed to progress from the milk to solid food. "So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (v14). One of the great joys, but also one of the great problems, with children is their naivety. You tell them something and their first response is to believe you. That's the essence of the "innocence" that our brothers and sisters who refuse to baptize their children use to debate against giving this precious gift to our children. The gift that begins the journey of the Christian life. The gift that starts the spiritual infants on the milk of the Word. The gift that reminds those of us who received it years ago that it's still just as important today as it was then. Because it is in that gift that God builds up His people. It's that gift that drives Christians to seek out what God has to say. They ask, "What was so special about me that God saved me?" They search the Scriptures and find that it is nothing special about them but something special about God.
It was God in His mercy, His love and His grace that brought about the wonders of salvation. Think about it. When was the first promise of salvation? The same day that Adam and Eve wrecked the entire world. God could have said, "You've messed up. It's all over now," and blasted them out of existence. Then, God the Father could have turned to the other two members of the Trinity and said, "Well, Adam and Eve were a bust. Let's try again with Frank and Barb." But He didn't. He told the serpent, "He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel" (Genesis 3:15). There was One who would come and destroy the handiwork of the devil. That gift comes through Jesus' death and resurrection--where Satan bruised His heel when He died and Jesus crushed his head when He rose from the dead.
"Grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift" (v7). Not only is it that each gets his own gift, but each gift is different from the others both in style and intensity. This Paul says over and over through his epistles. He says this every time he mentions the "one, holy Christian and apostolic Church" as being the body of Christ, with each member working together with the others. God's grace brings all these gifts together to work for the betterment of His "holy Christian and apostolic Church". God's grace, according to Christ's measure, brings meaning to each and every life. That meaning comes when God builds the Christian in the knowledge and truth of His Word. That meaning comes when God builds the Church with each of these Christians as the organic building blocks of the great organic Temple of the Holy Spirit. Through this building by grace, God helps us "attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (v13). What is the "stature of the fullness of Christ"? Exactly what Paul urges us at the very beginning of our reading: "to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love" (vv1-2). Through this virtuous life, we become "eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (v3). This is the virtuous life of faith that each Christian is given to live. This is the unity of the body of Christ. This is the peace that "surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
How can this be? This is the peace that sees each and every opportunity to come to the Lord's house in the same light as that child on Christmas morning. Eager to see what sort of gifts that were held in the wrappings. The gifts that God gives in the simple wrappings of bread and wine, water and the spoken Word. These gifts bring about everything that the apostle wishes upon the Ephesians and the saints here at Trinity. The gifts of salvation, forgiveness and everlasting life God brings to us this morning. Gifts that aren't expendable. Gifts that don't run out. Gifts that, in fact, strengthen and multiply as they are conveyed to Christian after Christian, year after year, generation after generation, world without end. Amen.