The Lord’s Day Morning
“Why Christ Gifted the Church”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Please open your Bibles to Ephesians, chapter four, as we continue working our way through this great letter of the Apostle Paul to the church of Ephesus, and to us, since “all Scripture is given by inspiration and is profitable for our reproof and correction, and training in righteousness.” We have described this discussion of church unity that has dominated the verses of Ephesians 4 several times, and in the outline that I’ve provided for you this morning I’ve tried to refresh your mind as to where we have been.
Last week we looked at Ephesians 4:7-13 where Paul emphasized the diversity of gifts in the body. Whereas in Ephesians 4:1-6 the focus had been on our unity and what we all share in common, Paul’s emphasis in verses 7-13 is on our diversity – on the different kinds of people and gifts and abilities and callings that Christ has given to His church.
But we also emphasized that Paul’s emphasis on that diversity, on our differences, actually served to strengthen our unity. That is, the Apostle Paul says in accordance to God’s glorious plan even our differences, even our different-ness, the diversity of gifts that exist in the Christian church, are to strengthen the unity of the church. The very fact that there are different people with different desires, different abilities, different emphases and focuses in their life and ministry should serve to enrich the oneness, the unity, the union and communion of the church.
Now, we didn’t get to spend much time on verses 11-13, but the Apostle Paul in this passage is wanting to turn our attention specifically to the issue of why Christ gifted the church: why was it that when the Lord Jesus Christ ascended on high, poured out gifts on us from the right hand of God the Father Almighty? Why was it that He gave gifts to His church? What was the purpose of His giving gifts to the church? What were the reasons for which He gave gifts to the church? That’s the focus of Ephesians 4:11-13, and that’s what we’re going to study this morning.
Paul has a different list in Romans, a different list in I Corinthians, a different list in the Book of Galatians; but it is interesting that he chooses to highlight the gifts that
Notice in verse 11 we’ll specifically identify the gifts which Christ gave...and we already emphasized last week that these are not the only gifts that Christ gave to the church. he highlights here in verse 11, so notice the kinds of gifts, what Christ gave to the church.
Then in verse 12, we’ll notice that Paul will emphasize what those gifts are supposed to do, what those gifts are supposed to accomplish in the church. This is the function of the gifts that he’s speaking of in verse 12.
And then, finally, in verse 13, here he gives the ultimate goal of those gifts in the church. They’re to do certain things (which he talks about in verse 12) to the ultimate goal, to the fulfillment of the ultimate purpose, described in verse 13. So let’s hear God’s word read, and before we do, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Heavenly Father, this is Your word. It is a lamp to our feet; it is a light to our way. In it You disclose Your character. You set forth the Savior. You show us our salvation in and through Him only. You show us how our sins deserve to be condemned, and how You condemned the sins of Your people in Jesus Christ on the cross. You show us how all those who rest and trust in Him are saved and brought into union and communion with You and Your people forever.
But You also show us how we are to live. Grant, O God, as we study this Your word today, that by Your Spirit we would not only understand more about the body of Christ, but that we would live out more and better the reality of the body of Christ. We ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of God, Ephesians 4:11:
“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.”
Amen. 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 challenging us here to think and give a biblical answer to and live out the biblical answer to the question “Why did Christ give gifts to His church”. And I want you to notice two or three things here.
1. The gifts that Christ has given to His Church.
First of all, I want you to notice in verse 11 how Paul emphasizes what the gifts are that Christ has given to His church; and then, in verse 12, what the gifts do; and then, finally, in verse 13, what they are for.
You see, Paul is reminding us that Jesus has given His church godly, gifted men to serve as shepherd/teachers, and He’s given those men to serve as shepherd/teachers so that we all might learn to serve one another, and to serve the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ, and so that the whole body together will be strengthened in the grace of Christ, and so that we all might together attain to a faith unity and a godly knowledge and a Christian maturity. So let’s walk through this passage together this morning, first looking at verse 11.
Here, notice that Paul is emphasizing the gifts Jesus gave. And His emphasis here is not on specific qualities and abilities that individuals have, although those indeed are included in the gifts that God has given to the church. Paul himself talks about them in Romans and in I Corinthians. God has given to some of us the gift of helping; God has given to some of us the gift of serving; God has given to some of us the gift of teaching; God has given to some of us different gifts and qualities of abilities. But here, notice that the emphasis is on people who have been given to the church: godly, gifted men devoted to the well-being of the flock. Paul says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.”
Now Paul is emphasizing here that Jesus gifted the church with godly, gifted people. Isn’t that interesting? He’s drawing attention to the fact that one of the greatest blessings and gifts that Christ can ever give to the church is the very people that He gives to the church to serve the church in areas of the church’s need - in this case, apostles who laid the foundation of the church along with the Lord Jesus Christ, those twelve men that He called, eleven of whom became the foundation of the church, along with the one elected in Acts 1 and along with Paul, whom Jesus personally called. They became the very foundation of the church of which the Lord Jesus Christ was the cornerstone.
And then, the New Testament prophets who proclaimed the word of God to God’s people, boldly revealing God and His purposes to the people of God; and then evangelists, those whom God called out in the earliest days of the New Testament to go where the gospel had never gone before, to go where there was no church, to preach the gospel, to see men and women and boys and girls brought to faith in Jesus Christ, and to see churches established; and then pastors and teachers – those who would shepherd and teach the people of God.
Paul emphasizes that these people are blessings to the church, and that’s so important for us to remember because so often we think that if the church is going to be having a great impact in our own culture and if the church is going to see a new season of effectiveness in engaging the culture, in evangelizing the lost and in building up the saints, then what we really need is new strategies, new techniques, new methods. And isn’t it interesting that Paul will draw our attention here not to any of those things, but to people? I’ve got the quote in the outline – that quote from that wonderful nineteenth century Methodist minister, E. M. Bounds, who wrote so many books on prayer. And I’ll bet you’ve heard this quote quoted fifty times - that “The church is looking for better methods, but God is looking for better men.”
But I think I could say it even differently than that here from Ephesians 4:11. The church may be looking for different methods and strategies and approaches, but Christ is giving men – godly, gifted people – to the church to equip the church for the work of ministry. And that’s so important for us to realize: that Christ’s plan is to bless us with godly, consecrated, gifted pastor/teachers who will pour their lives into us, so that we will do the work of ministry.
It’s so tempting, isn’t it, to think that the key is some strategy. I remember listening to an evangelism seminar by Randy Pope, the pastor of the Perimeter Churches in Atlanta, and he was telling us some different opportunities that he had had to share the gospel with people who might have been resistant to the gospel. And he told us about sharing the gospel one day over lunch with a particular man, and he had outlined the gospel presentation on a napkin...a paper napkin that was on the table. And the man had come to faith in Christ over the course of a very long lunch hour. And after the class, all of the ministers in this evangelism class rushed up to Randy and said, “What did you write on the napkin?” thinking that that was the key to the person coming to faith in Christ. But the fact of the matter is the key was a godly, consecrated man who loved the Lord Jesus Christ, who loved the gospel and told him about it. And Randy said, “Look, it wasn’t the outline that I shared that brought that man to Christ! It wasn’t the technique that brought him to Christ: it was the gospel, it was the power of the Holy Spirit, and I just had the privilege of being the instrument to lead that brother to Christ. I just want you to be creative in how you share the gospel. It’s not some outline that I had that did it.”
That was such a helpful thing to realize, because ministers, too, think that there’s some silver bullet that, if we just learned that, it will solve everything in the church...it will deal with every problem, it will lead us to new levels of effectiveness. And here’s Paul saying ‘No, look. When God’s preparing to bless the church, He gives the church godly, gifted, consecrated pastor/teachers that then pour themselves into the life of all of us in order that we can do the work of ministry.’ That’s the silver bullet. That’s his great blessing. And Paul’s reminding us of that here.
II. What Christ’s gifts are to accomplish in the Church.
The second thing I want you to see is in verse 12, and here notice how Paul draws our attention to the work of the gifts. In other words, he draws our attention to what the gifts are supposed to do, the work that they are supposed to accomplish in the church. And he tells you in a two-part summary in verse 12 what they are: equipping the saints to serve, and strengthening the body.
Notice how he puts it: These “...apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers are given to the church [why?] for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ....” Notice that the pastor/teachers are given to the church not so that they do all the ministry of the church, but so that you – the rest of the people of God, as the body of Christ – can be equipped to do the ministry that God intends you to do. And don’t you love the way that that ministry is described here? It’s called “the work of service.” Isn’t it glorious how we are all called to serve in the Christian church? And the pastor/teachers are here to equip us to give ourselves away in service and to do things that only we can do for the service of the church.
You know, there are many mistakes that are often made here. In our day and age, for instance, the ministry of pastor/teachers is often denigrated in the church as if it’s not important. But, you know, an opposite mistake can be made. People can think that really the only important ministry that is done is the ministry that is done in the pulpit or in a classroom where the word of God is being taught. Paul is emphasizing the pastor/teacher is here preaching and teaching the word of truth to the congregation not because that’s the only important work of service in the church, but to equip you to do all the important works of service in the church that need to be done. We are here to equip you. The elders of the church are given to the church not because the work of the elder is the only important work in the Christian ministry, but because the work of the elder is to pour ourselves into you, so that you do the work that only you can do and that God intends you to do. So the Lord intends you to serve the congregation, to serve one another, to serve the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the pastor/teachers are here to pour ourselves into you so that you can do just that.
And, you know, one of the blessings in the Christian church is seeing people who have been gifted greatly serving humbly in the life of the congregation. This past week we had a ministerial fraternal that focuses on the work of evangelism and church planting and missions out at Twin Lakes. It’s sponsored by you, the people of First Presbyterian Church, and by the elders of First Presbyterian Church. It’s called “The Twin Lakes Fellowship.” A minister came up to me at the end of the fellowship on Thursday. He said two things to me. The first thing he said was, “I’ve been a minister for twenty years, and no one has ever given me anything for being a minister. No one has even given me an encouragement like this for being a minister. And your church, your elders, your congregation and the other people that came together, you’re the first people in twenty years that have ever just said ‘Thank you for being a minister. We want to give you this. We want to encourage you in this way because you’re a minister of the gospel.’ And he was blessed to the very bottom of his toes by that gift of service!
But the second thing he said was this: “You know, all week long I’ve seen your elders and your staff down here serving us. And I know those people have other things to do. They’re busy. They have jobs, they have lives, they have families. And they’ve been ferrying us around from the airport to the camp and then taking us back, and they’ve been waiting on us hand and foot.” And he said, “I just want to tell you, watching your godly elders and staff serve is something that I hope will not leave my mind for many years to come.” Just watching them serve had encouraged that discouraged minister of the Lord.
And friends, we can serve one another in that way regularly. And the ministry of the pastors and teachers is to equip you to serve one another in that way. Yes, we’re to serve, and we’re to serve by example, and we are to give an example for your service; but you yourselves have a work of service to do, and it may be very different for every one of you. For some it may be helping with the children of the congregation. For others it may be reaching out, working with the Gateway Rescue Mission or working with the Neighborhood Christian Center, or being involved in missions or evangelism or campus ministry. There can be hundreds and hundreds of ways that that work of service is expressed. We’re here to equip you, but you are the one who is called to be the minister.
Have you ever gone to another church and seen the list of the church staff and then under it, it has the list of ministers. And it will say something like “the whole congregation.” The staff is the staff, but you are the ministers is the idea behind it. And that is a biblical idea. The whole congregation is called to be involved in the work of service – not to do the elders’ job, but to be equipped by the elders to do your work of service in the congregation.
III. Paul explains the goal of the work that these gifts are to accomplish.
Thirdly, I want you to look at verse 13, because here Paul explains the goals of this work that is to be done. You saw at the end of verse 12 this emphasis on the building up of the body because the teaching of the pastor/teacher is not only to equip us for service, but to build us up. And Paul fleshes that out in verse 13, doesn’t he:
“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.”
You see, he’s told us not only about the work that the gifts are to do, he’s told us what the goal of Christ’s giving us those gifts is, and that goal is three-fold: a faith unity; a Christly knowledge; and, Christian maturity.
First of all, a faith unity – “...so that we may all attain the unity of the faith.” Now let me show you something just quickly that we can’t develop. Notice how from verse 3 of Ephesians 4 we emphasize that Paul calls on us not to create a unity that we don’t have, but to maintain a unity that we already have. Well, notice the language difference there in verse 13: now we are to attain a unity of the faith. So we are both to maintain what we have already been given by the way of unity, and we’re also to attain a fullness of its experience and expression that we don’t have yet.
One of our deacons was telling me of a conversation he recently had. He was talking with a man...it became apparent very quickly that this man was a Christian. In fact, he turned out to be a Southern Baptist missionary. And they were carrying out a conversation, and the Southern Baptist missionary was just a little bit skeptical of our deacon, because he had heard that he was a Presbyterian and he thought ‘Well, he must be a liberal Presbyterian.’ And then in the course of the conversation the man said ‘Oh! You’re a member in a PCA church! You believe the Bible! You believe in the inerrancy of Scripture! You believe in the gospel!’ and immediately the man warmed up and he began to express – what? – a unity of spirit because of a shared faith. He suddenly realized ‘This is a brother! He believes the Bible, he believes the gospel and he shares it. We have differences, but we’re all about the core of the same thing.’ There was a unity of the faith expressed there.
Paul wants that expressed in the congregation. Whatever differences we have, there is a core of shared faith that brings about a sense of unity and expression of unity in the congregation.
But not only that, a Christly knowledge. Notice how he puts it: “...the knowledge of the Son of God” – a congregation full of people who savingly know the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God and Savior of sinners. The pastor/teachers of the church want you to know the Lord Jesus Christ; not simply to know about Him, but to know Him so that you can say that I know Him whom to know aright is life eternal.
And the pastor/teachers of the church want the whole church together to grow up to maturity. Don’t you love the phrase that’s used here? “...To a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” – a whole congregation becoming mature as Christians, as the body of Christ. And the Apostle Paul says that is the goal of the gifting that Christ has given to the church. The reason that he gives godly, consecrated pastor/teacher/elders to the church is so that the church will be built up to maturity and will be equipped to serve. And so the whole gifting of the church is designed to equip the church to be what God has called us to be. It’s not so that we can kind of sit back in our chairs and watch it happen, or so that we can employ somebody else to do the ministry for us: it’s so that we can be equipped to do the work that God has called us to do, and that means every-member ministry in the church. Every member is not called to do the ministry of the elders, but every member is called to serve.
Part of our job as elders is to help you find the areas of gifting that you have. Part of our job is to instruct you in the truth so that you are able to share in that unity of faith and that knowledge of the Son of God. Part of our job is to equip you to do the specific service that you are called to do, and to encourage you in doing it, and to be good servants ourselves so that you cannot say ‘Well, I’m not going to serve, because they don’t serve.’
But our job is not to serve for you. It’s to encourage you into the service. Christ Himself has engifted the church so that you might do it. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this Your word. And we pray that You would make this reality of mutual service more and more a reality in this local congregation: that we might be a blessing to one another; that we might be a blessing to other churches; that we might be a blessing to our neighbors; and, that we might be a great faithful witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. This we ask in His name. Amen.
Now let me ask you to take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to No. 378. For a good forty years now, this great hymn, Here, O My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face, has been one of our favorite hymns in communion. Pay close attention to the words as we sing it to God’s praise.
As we come to the Lord’s Table, let us give close attention to the words of institution spoken by our Lord and given to the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11:
“For this I received from the Lord, that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink, it in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord. But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy word.
We have been thinking much about the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is precisely what the Apostle Paul is talking about in context of I Corinthians 11. It’s a body of Christians who aren’t like they are a body, and he’s calling on them to see the radical ramifications of what the Lord Jesus Christ has done in His death to bring them into His body. And so it is especially appropriate that we come to the Lord’s Table today in the midst of this privilege of feasting on His word in Ephesians 4.
The Lord’s Supper is a sacrament, and by a sacrament we mean a ritual or an action that has been appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself that is designed to represent and confirm and apply a spiritual reality set forth in God’s promises. The bread and the cup of the Lord’s Table represent the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, given for our sins: the atoning, effective, sufficient and final work of the Lord Jesus Christ which, when we rest and trust in Him alone, brings us out from under the just condemnation of God and into His forgiven and redeemed family.
So this table represents that to us, but it also confirms that to us because God knows that our faith is weak, and so in His kindness He gives to us tangible signs so that we not only hear Him whisper His promises in our ears, but we see and smell and taste the promises of God in the bread and in the cup. And He gives it to us to apply these truths to us, so that as we receive them by faith He strengthens us with His grace.
So this day I would invite all of you who are trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ to come to this table, the Lord’s Table. If you trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, if you have been joined to His church, then come to this table this day.
If you are not a believer, however, if you have not trusted in Jesus Christ, if you have not joined yourself to His people (the church), do not come to this table. You’ve heard Paul’s warnings. No, if you’ve not trusted in Jesus Christ, wait, think, pray, repent. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. And then the next time we gather at this table, you come as my brother or sister in Christ and feast at His table of grace because you’ve rested on Him for salvation.
If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ and you’ve come this day discouraged and weary, and even concerned that you are not worthy to come to this table, I’ve got good news for you. You’re right, you’re not worthy to come to this table; but the Lord Jesus Christ says to you ‘Come anyway. I am the only one worthy. I have been worthy for you.’ You need the strengthening of your graces. Come to the table and believe and be strengthened.
Let’s set apart these common elements for a holy use with prayer. Let’s pray.
Our Lord and our God, it boggles our mind that when we gather for worship and when we sit down at this table we enjoy the strengthening grace of the Savior and we enjoy the communion of the saints in a quite unique and extraordinary way. We fellowship in Your body with those who once were here with us, but are now above. We come to You with all the people of God in all the world trusting in Jesus Christ alone, and who worship You, and we are strengthened with them as one body.
O God, the truth of the church triumphant and universal and invisible is sweet to us as we come to this table, and we come to proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes again. We come to declare that His body and His blood alone are our trust. We come to declare that it is the desire of our hearts for Him to come again, and so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” We come to declare, O God, that Your grace alone is sufficient to forgive us and to grow us, and so we have no other hope but in You. But, O God, we need no other hope but You. Receive our thanks for this meal. Commune with us at Your table. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
[Dr. Thomas] Since the Lord’s Supper is for professing believers who have discerned the Lord’s body, it is appropriate now for us to confess our faith together. Christian, what is it that you believe?
[Congregation] I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
Born of the virgin Mary,
Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell.
The third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven,
And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church;
The communion of the saints; the forgiveness of sins;
The resurrection of the body;
And the life everlasting.
[Dr. Duncan] We recite the summary of God’s moral law at the Lord’s table, right next to this gospel ordinance of the Lord’s Supper, to remind us of our need for the forgiveness of sins. That law would condemn us, apart from God’s grace. And, to remind us that the Lord Jesus Christ fulfilled all that law for us, and to remind us that now as we rest and trust in Him, we long to be like Him, and so we want more and more to be able to say with the psalmist, “How I love Your law, O God!” Let us say then together that summarization of The Ten Commandments that you find in your bulletin.
[Congregation] You shall have no other gods before Me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol. You shall not worship them or serve them.
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet.
[Dr. Thomas] On the same night in which He was betrayed, Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”
[Dr. Duncan] In the same way, our Savior took the cup after supper, and having given thanks for it, as we have already done in His name, He gave it to His disciples, and He said to them, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Drink of it, all of you.”