Sermon, October 18, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your word. We ask that You teach us wonderful things from Your law, and that by Your Spirit we would not simply wrap our minds around the truth, but that we would be so gripped in the very depths of our hearts that we would believe, desire, and live out this truth. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God:
7 But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.”[a]9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?[b] 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.
And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
The Apostle Paul is saying to us in this passage that in the Christian church the unity and well-being of the whole body is served by the diversity of the gifts that Christ has given to each member of the one body; that in the church of the Lord Jesus Christ our preservation of and manifestation of and living out of the unity that God has granted us in Jesus Christ is, in fact, far from being hindered by our diversity, served by our diversity; that the different gifts that exist in the body, that the different types of people that exist in the body, that the different kinds of gifts that Christ has given to His church in people and through people serve the unity of the body, and ought to be celebrated, not apologized for or feared. And I want you to see three things in particular that Paul is concerned that we understand today.
And the first one is simply this, and you see it there in verse 7, that Jesus has given every single one of us gifts. Look at what Paul tells us in verse 7: “To each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Paul’s emphasis is that each has been engifted of Christ. In fact, in verse 11, he will almost speak in terms of the total person as a gift to the church. It’s an apostle that’s a gift to the church, it’s a prophet that’s a gift to the church, it’s an evangelist or a pastor-teacher, so that the totality of who we are, expressed in our vocation, is a gift of Christ to the church.
But as you know, there are more than these listed as gifts of God to the church in the Scriptures. And by the way, isn’t it interesting here that these gifts in Ephesians 4 are listed as gifts of Christ? We often talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and rightly so. The New Testament itself talks about the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church. But the New Testament also talks about the gifts of the Father to the church, the gifts of the Son to the church, as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church. So, notice that even in the very way that the gifts are ascribed in the New Testament we see the unity of the triune God in engifting His people. Well, in this passage it is emphasized that it is Christ pouring out those gifts to His church from His exalted place at the right hand of God.
There are other gifts that are listed in the New Testament. In Romans 12 beginning with verse 4 Paul says 4 For as in one body we have many members,[a] and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads,[b] with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. And again, there you see Paul speaking almost in vocational terms about the gifts of God to His church — people who lead, people who serve, people who show mercy, people who exhort, people who minister, people who prophesy. He speaks almost in vocational terms.
But then he gets even more specific. Notice verse 9 of Romans 12: 9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. 10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit,[c] serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer……and so on, almost to the point as if Paul is saying it’s a blessing and gift of Christ to the church that there will be people who rejoice in hope and persevere in tribulation, and who are devoted to prayer, or who practice hospitality, or who contribute to the needs of the saints, as if those activities themselves are gifts of God to the church. And so, the Apostle Paul here is emphasizing that each one of us have been made recipients of gifts from the risen and ascended Christ. Each one of us!
Now, how often do you hear people say in churches today that twenty percent of the people are doing eighty percent of the work, and eighty percent of the people are doing twenty percent of the work? Now, I do not know whether that is the case. I certainly do not know whether that’s the case in our own congregation. But I wonder whether that is a helpful way for us to think. Certainly, none of us want to fail to be utilizing our gift in the body of Christ, or our gifts. Because if Christ has gifted each of us, He has gifted us because that gift is needed in the church. And even though it may not be an up-front gift that God has given to us, yet it is needful to the church, and the church is impoverished if that gift is not exercised.
I well remember Dr. Doug Kelly telling us in seminary about a woman in the congregation in Aberdeen, Scotland, who had been confined to her home for many years, unable to come to church. But she was a woman of faith who was faithful to pray. She always made sure that the prayer reminders of the congregation were brought to her home, and she was diligent in spending many hours alone praying. It was she that prayed for years and years that an evangelical preacher would come to that congregation. There had been liberal pastors in that congregation that did not believe the word of God. And so many people expect, when we get to glory, to hear that it was the prayers of that godly woman that brought William Still to that congregation, who preached the gospel for over a half century, and raised up a host of evangelical ministers and missionaries in the Church of Scotland through that faithful proclamation. It was she, who, when a poor seminary student named Doug Kelly came there having to go to a preaching assignment and his alarm clock was broken, said to him, “Douglas, have you prayed for that clock?” And he said, “I’d never thought of praying for a clock in my life!” And she said, “Well, let’s just do it right now!” and started praying that the Lord would make that alarm clock work. Well, guess what? It did, and he got to his preaching assignment where he needed to be the next day. And I wonder whether that — Doug was already a consecrated servant of the Lord, but I wonder whether that has been a spark in Doug’s own devotion in encouraging the people of God in prayer. He tells that story in his wonderful book, If God Already Knows, Why Pray? how that woman in her gift of faith and prayer blessed that congregation and blessed us even though most of us never met her. She had a gift that needed to be used, that if it had not been used, the church would have been impoverished.
My friends, we need to have that attitude ourselves. You may be a young person, and you may draw pictures for your Mom and Dad and for your Grandmom and Grandad. And, you know, your Mom and Dad may have so many of those pictures that there’s not even room now on the refrigerator or in their drawers to keep them. But there may be an older person in this congregation that is confined to their home, or to a nursing home, or even to a hospice, who does not have a grandchild to draw pictures for them. And your picture may be a great, great encouragement to them to let them know that they have not been forgotten, and that there is a young person that loves them. And you might say, “Mom and Dad, this afternoon could we go the nursing home and visit some of our members, some of our friends here in this church, that are in the nursing home? And could I take my pictures to them?” Who knows how the gift that the Lord has given you might be used in the life of such a person?
All of us have ways that we can bless the body, and we must be on the lookout for how to do it. We should not be looking at others and wishing that we had their gifts: we will be wasting our own gifts. We should not diminish how God will use small things in our eyes. No, we should be exercising the gifts the Lord has given us, because Christ has given every single one of His people gifts.
Secondly, the Apostle Paul emphasizes in verse 11 that Jesus has given different gifts to each one of us. Notice how he puts it: “He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers….” They are different! Not everybody is an apostle, not everybody is a prophet, not everybody is an evangelist, not everybody is a pastor-teacher. Those gifts are different. God does not make cookie-cutter Christians. There is not a celestial cookie factory and one little cookie cutter out of which we are all made. We are different, and that is glorious! It is enriching! Have you ever enjoyed being with Christians that have gifts that you don’t have, that have strengths that you don’t have, that have desires for God and for His glory, and love for Christ that you don’t have? And it is personally enriching for you to be with those who have those things that you do not have. I have so often been blessed to be with people that have experiences and maturity and gifts that I do not have, and I am the richer for fellowship with them. That is how God intends it. Our very diversity enriches us, because on our own we do not have all that we need. And so, in the very differences of those gifts there is an enriching of the whole body.
Then Paul goes on to say not only that we have different gifts, but in verse 12 that Jesus has given every gift for the well-being of the whole body, so that my gifts are not for my personal satisfaction and enjoyment and Christian growth; my gifts belong to you.
Jesus has only proximately given them to me, but ultimately for His glory and for your edification. The things that the Lord has given to you, He has given to you for the well-being of the whole body. Each of our gifts belong to the whole body and are to be exercised in that way, because all of the gifts that Christ gives, He gives for the building up of the whole body; and, therefore, we need to cultivate a mindset that asks first of all ‘Lord God, what gifts have You given me?’ and then, secondly, ‘Lord God, how am I going to utilize those gifts for the whole body?’
And we also need to create a mindset that is on the lookout for those gifts and is encouraging brothers and sisters in Christ in the exercise of those gifts. When is the last time you said to a fellow church member, “I just want to pause and tell you how you have encouraged me in your doing of this” or in your trust in Christ, or in this way or that way? “It has been a blessing to me,” or “it has been a blessing to my child” or “I’ve seen how it’s ministered to our congregation”? Have you encouraged your brothers and sisters in Christ in the exercise of their gifts?
Have you drawn your children’s attention to the gifts of others that God has not given you, but has given to others? My wife, Anne, was telling me after the first service that Ron Musselman, who used to minister in this congregation, he and his wife would bring people into the home and say to their children, “Now, this person has this gift that we don’t have” in order to draw attention to that young person of the gifts that God had given to His whole body through those particular people, to encourage them and to encourage their children to be on the lookout for those very gifts. And again, my friends, we often have no idea how our gifts are used in the lives of others. Just this past week, I was talking to a friend of mine who said that many years ago he had gone into his law firm very early on a Saturday morning. Nobody else was there but he, and he went into his little office and closed the door, and he was working away. And into that law firm very early on a Saturday morning came one of our elders, who had no idea that anybody else was there, and at the top of his lungs he was singing, “Crown Him with Many Crowns”. And my friend said, “You know, you learn a lot about a man when he’s alone and he doesn’t know that he’s being watched.” And that man singing praises to God as he prepared to do his work…that gift…what do you call it? Is that rejoicing in hope, from Romans 12? Maybe so. I do not know…what do you…? I do not even know what to call it. Isn’t it amazing how that gift has stayed in the heart of my friend for years – to see a man who loves the Lord, serving the Lord, singing His praises as he tries to glorify Him in all of life, even in his vocation at work?
We don’t know how the gifts that God has given to us will minister in the lives of His people, but we do know this: that there is no gift that has been given to us which is not intended to be a blessing to the whole body. And so, consequently, we must think in terms of our own gifts and callings as to how they will serve the welfare, the well-being, of the whole body.
May the Lord bless His word.
Lord God help us to think like kingdom Christians that are always desiring to bless the whole body, the whole family, the whole fellowship of the Lord’s people. We do love Your kingdom and help us to manifest that even in the way we use our gifts. We pray this in Jesus’ name.