Gifts for Wholeness – Ephesians 4:7-14 – Apostle Larry J. Morris III

Preached November 7, 2021

But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.”

(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Grace and Peace!

Last week we talked about “performing wholeness.” In the first six verses of Ephesians, the prisoner in the Lord – the writer, reminded us of the unity already present in Christ and creation. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Ancestor of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” Anybody remember that?

In this next section, the writer instructs us on the gifts that Christ, gave to the church, to equip the church for the work of performing wholeness – for the work of ministry. After all, we are disciples of Christ, a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. 

In verse 7 we are told that each individual in the community was given grace (or a gift)  according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Which means we all have a gift. We all have received a gift or some gifts from Christ. We all have something to offer community. Christ did not leave anyone out. We don’t all have the same gifts and even those of us who have similar gifts, our gifts do not function the same. We also don’t have the same measure of the gifts. Some of us start out with a little, others have more. That’s the reality and we can be mad about it or we can be faithful with the gift and the measure that we have. I don’t know about you, but I am aiming for faithfulness with my gifts. I live to hear Jesus say, “well done, my good and FAITHFUL servant.”

And then the writer reaches back to the Old Testament and reworks Psalm 68:18. Scholars suggest that Psalm 68:18 is a psalm about God’s victory over God’s enemies and the enemies of God’s people. The writer in Ephesians places Christ in the place of God. Which in the mind of the writer makes sense – Jesus and God are one. Ephesians says that “when Jesus ascended on high, he made captivity itself a captive.” Christ has taken away the power of the powers and principalities. Christ has taken our captivity captive and liberated us! Now, whether we are walking in liberation or not, Christ has done the work! Not only has Christ taken captivity captive, but Christ has also given gifts to his people. 

Ephesians also wants us to remember that not only did Christ ascend, but Christ descended to the lower parts of the earth. Yes, Christ came descended from heaven to earth, but I don’t believe the text stops at Christ descending to earth. I believe the text wants us to remember that Christ descended to the lower parts of the earth.- what some folx call hell and what the Scriptures call Sheol, the underworld, the realm of the dead. Some folx may be content with a Jesus who walked the earth and showed them how to live and fight the powers that be on earth. The Jesus who healed some sick folx on earth and preached freedom and liberation to folx on earth. But there are some folx who appreciate a Jesus who descended into the underworld, into hell or Sheol, and preached freedom to the captives there. Yes, there are some folx who appreciate a Jesus who will descend into their hell, into their place of captivity, and preach them free! If you are going through hell, know that Jesus is there with you and will bring you out! Jesus took captivity captive and it’s only a matter of time before your liberation is manifested!

Verse 11: The gifts Jesus gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers. 

There are folx who believe that not all of these gifts are still present, active, and needed in the church today. Clearly, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, I am not one of those folx. I believe that these are gifts that Jesus Christ has given to the church in each age and for all time – until the plan of God is fully revealed. These grace-gifts are people born for each age of the church as leaders to equip the church for the work of ministry. Everyone is not an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher. But some are. The grace-gifts are not about offices in the Church universal, our denominations, or local congregations. These are gifted people given by Christ. One cannot work their way into one of these grace-gifts. Just because you desire a particular gift doesn’t mean you will be that gift. The only gift Scripture teaches that we should “earnestly desire” is the gift of prophecy – because the gift of prophecy – not prophet – edifies the church. you don’t graduate from teacher to apostle. One cannot be demoted from prophet to evangelist. No. You are what Jesus made you. We can grow in our gift of apostle. We can grow in our understanding of our gift as prophet. And some folks may have multiple giftings – but again, Christ gave the gifts according to Christ’s choosing. We can spend our lives fighting who Christ has made us or we can enjoy the journey of learning to understand our gift and learning to be faithful to Christ and community. 

I don’t have time today to go into detail about how each gift functions and operates – I will do that another time – or if you have questions, reach out. But here are some general definitions of each. 

Apostles are sent ones, who have been delegated authority by Jesus Christ to represent Christ in the world. Apostles are typically pioneers who develop new communities and oversee their development. They are entrepreneurs, strategists, innovators, and visionaries. 

Prophets are interpreters or forth-tellers of the Divine will. Prophets don’t always predict the future, they are gifted-persons who expose divine truth in a particular situation. They are questioners, disruptors, and agitators. Now prophets, if all you do is question, disrupt and agitate – you may need some healing and deliverance. Prophets also edify, exhort, and comfort. 

Evangelists are those who bring good news! Evangelists preach the full gospel. They are missionaries. Now, history has shown us how missionaries have caused harm to communities. Evangelists don’t strip communities of their culture, they help to show communities how God and Christ are already at work in their culture, and how their culture might show forth the praise and glory of Christ. Evangelists recruit people into the community and passionately communicate the good news of Christ. If I have to give up my culture to follow Christ – that ain’t good news.   

Pastors or Shepherds, feed, protect and care for the total well-being of a group. They oversee a particular group. They are the social cement and glue of a community. They walk closely with folx through the everydayness of life. 

Teachers are the instructors. They have mastered a subject. They are able to communicate the revealed wisdom of God in ways people understand and in ways people are able to put into practice. They help people learn how to obey the commands of Christ. 

All of these grace-gifts work together to equip us, the church, to perform wholeness, to do the work of ministry. These leadership gifts are needed in the Body of Christ and in local congregations. These leadership gifts, along with each gift in the body of Christ, help us to grow up, to mature into the fullness of the new humanity to which Christ has called us. Every believer has a work to do. Every person has an offering to give to the community. Apostle, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, help us to figure out what our individual and collective is and help to prepare us to do that work. We need these grace-gifts to be fully active to help us to do the work of liberation and wholeness. 

The truth is, the powers and principalities are having a field day in the earth right now. We need these grace-gifts to be fully active to help us to do the work of liberation and wholeness. 

I want to encourage every apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher – if you know you’ve been called to this work, if you know you are one of these grace-gifts to the church – be the gift. Do the work. Get connected to a community that honors and supports you and your particular call. The reality is, not everyone will honor you as an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher. Still, be the gift. Do the work. The reality is, you are not called to everybody. You are called to a particular community or communities. Even Paul said, he was an apostle to the Gentiles. Get some clarity on which community or communities Christ has gifted you to work with. Also, if we have to be called by our grace-gift to do the work, we might want to check our pride. If you’re a prophet, the folks will know. You are a pastor, the fruit of your ministry will show it. We won’t always get the accolades and rewards folx think we do. To whom much is given, much is required. Our giftings come from Christ and are to be shared with the church and the world. And like Christ, we might be rejected and misunderstood by those who are supposed to know us and know God. And like Christ, we are to do the will of the one who sent us. 

At Communion Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) these grace-gifts are foundational to our understanding of community. We cultivate disciples of Christ, co-create community, and collectively work towards liberation. Part of our cultivating is understanding these grace-gifts in our current context and equipping folx to live fully and faithfully. I invite you to journey with us if you don’t have a faith community you are committed to. Reach out. 

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