Series > Worshiping the Spirit
Gifts Of The Spirit
Ryan Tompkins // May 5, 2019
scripture Passage // Ephesians 4:1–16 (ESV)
“1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 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.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 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 and teachers, 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, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
We've been considering a sermon series that's focusing on the role and the person of the Holy Spirit as we find him in the New Testament. And today as we turn our attention to Ephesians 4 we see that Paul shows us really both the mission of the Church and part of the means by which that mission is accomplished. The mission being that we together would be built up in the stature of the fullness of Christ.
The means by which that occurs is that we would be knitted together as one body sharing gifts, investing in one another so that together we grow up. Really Paul's vision in Ephesians is such that you really don't grow up as a Christian alone. We either grow up together or we don't grow up at all, and that's become increasingly difficult in the day and age that we live for a number of different reasons.
I was particularly saddened in the sense of ... Well I'll explain to you and then you understand why I pause. Last week there was another mass shooting or attempted mass shooting that was interrupted a little bit early. Nineteen year-old John Ernest shot members of a synagogue in California. What was particularly sad about it to me was that John Ernest was a very active member of his church, and it was an Orthodox Presbyterian Church, an OPC church. Now, the reason that's somewhat significant as the OPC is essentially kissing cousins with the PCA. You could just as well say it was a PCA member who was very active in Bible study and regularly going to church who decided to engage in a mass shooting.
May I ask how does that happen, and we could, of course, say, “Well you know there's obviously mental illness at play.” Fair enough. I don't think anyone's disputing that. But mental illness is not new. Mental illness has always been present in our culture, why is it increasingly acceptable that the rage and the hate the frustration that someone may feel might take such a decisive outward act as ending someone's life. That the rise of mass shootings culturally represent that society changing, in ways dramatically that are not for the better. Why are these changes taking place?
I don't pretend to offer you a comprehensive or authoritative answer to that question this morning, but there are certainly factors in play that we can consider together. One undoubtedly is the remarkable rise of a feeling or impression of loneliness in our western culture, particularly in America. Cigna the big insurance provider recently did a study of 20000 Americans, which is a pretty big sample group, and in the midst of that they found the following, they made the following observations.
One near like 50% of respondents report that they felt alone or left out always or sometimes. Two more than half of Americans 56% reported that they sometimes or always feel like the people around them were not necessarily with them. 40% of Americans said they quote lack companionship, that they are quote isolated from others and that quote relationships aren't meaningful. That's pretty significant.
So are you saying that essentially 50% of the American people on average right between those three questions don't feel like they have significant relationships, they feel particularly and peculiarly lonely. Now we're a lonely people and as has been pointed out ad nauseum, I'm not going to belabor the point this morning, but there's great irony there in the sense that we are the most connected people in the history of the world. We can reach out to anyone across the globe in real time and despite this ability I can Face Time with ... you could Face Time with any of your family members and with any of your friends and so on so forth. We still feel that our relationship relationships are particularly lacking.
One commentator made an interesting observation that I had really thought about for people roughly my age maybe give or take a little bit, right? When you were growing up, I don't know about you but for me, I did not very often see someone try to read a book and carry on a conversation at the same time. In fact, even thinking about it seems a little bit difficult. But today what do you see happening? People will carry on a conversation and look at their phone all the time, not truly be present for the conversation.
There is a lack of connectionalism in that fashion. But it's not just that we're lonely, it's not just that we're lacking connection. It's that also we're becoming more hateful. We're expressing more contempt toward one another. I don't think I really need to make that case. All you need to do is watch the news or any kind of commentary in general to come to that conclusion. But one theologian recently said that he's persuaded that the enemy has played a decisive role in convincing us that if we disagree with someone we have to hate them. What better way to break up not only society at large, but particularly people within the church.
As if we can't come to any we ... If we've forgotten how to have a civil conversation, how are we ever going to have a relationship? Just as another example in terms, if you really want to feel this, you can do what ... Someone in the last election cycle sent me and I mentioned this once before, but they sent me in the 1984 presidential and vice presidential debates. So you can go on YouTube and you can watch Reagan and Mondale and you can watch Bush and Ferraro and it's like watching a discussion on a different planet. They are so civil, thoughtful and respecting each other's comments and giving each other space. It's almost as if you've forgotten what political discourse once looked like in the past.
Immediately you'll say, “Oh yes something significant has changed.” If we've gone from 1984 to now and this is how much our discourse, our dialogue and what we're willing to say about each other has changed, then there have been dramatic cultural shifts. And all this bears down not only upon us because we're citizens, individuals in this country, but because all cultural influencers bear down on us as we seek to be faithful in the church.
We seek to be faithful disciples of Christ and ask, what does that mean? All of these things are weighing on us and Paul holds out his words could not be more important than the gifts of the Spirit. I don't think it could be more important, because he offers this invitation. Says you can choose to live radically differently. The church can truly be a unique place, or the church can look just like culture and slap a Jesus bumper sticker on it. This is what I think the distinction that, the choice that Paul holds out, would hold out to us this morning.
So what's Paul's vision for what it actually means to follow Jesus, which is where he begins if you look in verse one. His challenge to the Ephesian church is to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. To which we might ask what does it mean to walk worthy? What does that look like? Well Paul doesn't leave us hanging, he answers that question and his answer is actually pretty profound, because I don't think it's what we would necessarily anticipate.
He begins in verse 2, the first characteristics of a worthy walk in humility and gentleness. Humility being the idea that you generally tend to have a low view of yourself. We're not talking about low self-esteem, but you understand that you are, you've alienated yourself from God, you receive great grace and because you're only saved by that grace you have a certain posture of humility and because you've been saved by grace, you extend that grace to others and that's why gentleness is paired with humility, because if you're really living out of grace inevitably you're going to be gentle towards others, because you believe your only hope is for God to be gentle with you. Humility and gentleness.
The second characteristic is what? Patience. Now, when we read the English word patience there we often actually get the wrong idea. We have a little bit of a translation challenge in terms of English vocabulary. Because when you hear patience you think, “Oh I've got to sit and listen to somebody who's really obnoxious, or I've got to make it through this grocery line and the checkers going so slow and I want to go ballistic, but I'm going to display patience.” That's actually not what Paul has in mind here.
The word carries the notion that you would remain consistent and carry on in the same course even when life is very arduous. When you feel persecuted for your faith or when you feel that God isn't showing up. This idea of patience is that you are waiting upon the Lord whether or not you feel like the Lord has actually shown up. That's the kind of patience that Paul was talking about.
Third, Paul goes on to speak of bearing with each other in love, right. Not a grudging tolerance. Sometimes you'll hear a Christian say, “Well I don't have to like that person, but I do have to love them, so I guess I'll serve them.” That's not what Paul has in mind right. What he's talking about is having a compassion, an empathy towards a person. You're willing to know their story and try to understand where they're coming from and express compassion towards them in that place, right? That's what it means to bear with one another in love.
And fourth, a worthy walk is, in verse 3, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Energetically, eagerly, we are called to pursue unity and peace, which means if you see something that causes division, you would work to stamp it out. If you have hurt someone or you have been hurt by someone, you're committed to peace to the degree that you want to go and resolve that rather than let it fester and divide the people in the church.
Now what's really fascinating about this if you've been thinking about ... Paul begins with the question, what does a worthy walk look like? Now how would you have answered that before he gave you this list. I'm gonna bet, right. Maybe I should have asked this before I gave you the list. I'm going to bet that the vast majority of you will say, would say something like, “Well someone who doesn't sin, someone who keeps himself from sin.” That's not Paul's priority here. Paul's priority is the unity of the body, is the fierceness and integrity of Christian friendships that exist in the church.
His priority is gentleness, peace, humility, love, bearing with one another and maintaining the unity of the Spirit. These are all relational categories. Paul's primary concern in expressing what a worthy walk looks like is to say, you have very seriously loving relationships in the church. Well that requires a lot of us. It requires that we're committed to each other, it requires that we sacrifice time, it requires that we're willing to pursue relationships and willing to be hurt and to take that up with people when that happens, and that it's a hard road, because today people get hurt a lot. People are willing to hurt more as we've already mentioned.
There's a fun story about ruining movies that speaks to hurting another person. Last year a man was really looking forward to Infinity Wars coming out, and so he was online and part of a forum and he was writing about how he was looking forward to the movie and a troll got on the forum and saw this talk about how everyone was looking forward to the first big and Avengers movie coming out and he ruined it for them, right. He laid out the general plot and the end of the movie. Well this man was so looking forward to the movie, he was so angry, it just kind of sad. He said, “How am I going to make this right?” By which he meant, how am I going to take revenge on this person.
So he actually reached out to the troll and he built a friendship with the troll, touched in, touch based with them, some are regularly carrying on a relationship for an entire year and as Endgame approached him just casually asked the troll said, “Hey you're going to go see Endgame opening night." The troll said, "Actually I can't, I'm going to have to see it sometime later that weekend." So the man was delighted, because he went to Endgame opening night, he took a picture of every pivotal scene, wrote up a synopsis of the major twists and turns of the movie and then he sent them subsequently by text to the individual, so as soon as they started popping up he would be captured and read through them and of course ruin the movie for him.
To which the troll replied, “What you've done. I thought we were friends.” And the man said, “No, we're not friends. I've just pretended to be your friend for an entire year, so that I could do to you what you did to me.” That's not advice to you on how to get back at me for perhaps maybe once or twice ruining a movie with an illustration in a sermon, right. Let's not miss the bigger point here which is A, part of us really likes that story, right.
No one likes a troll. And here's this guy gets the guy back, but if you take a step back, what happened to that man over the course of the year? What happened to his heart, that he wallowed in his anger, that he formulates this plan of revenge and looks forward to causing pain and discomfort in another? Does this man know freedom? Mm-mm(negative). No, he's a prisoner to his rage, and his revenge is eating him up. Do you think that he felt liberated in that everything, you know once he did that to the other guy? I bet he smiled and enjoyed that a bit, and I bet he woke up the next morning feeling just the same that he did the day before.
That it hadn't really affected any particular change. Right. But this is the world that we increasingly live in. It's a world that is cannibalistic. It's carnal, it's a world in which I'm not committed to other people, and there is no meaning and purpose in my life so ultimately I just have to fend for myself. I'm going to get what I get and then game over. But as we read Paul we realize that a divine way of living, a walk that is worthy, something that is actually equipped by Christ is something that's radically, radically different because it views the people sitting to your left and your right as more important than you yourself.
That you would be willing to serve and love and invest in that relationship, now that's terribly difficult and we might be tempted to cry uncle at this point except it's the very point for Paul at which Jesus and the Spirit show up, so we can say thank goodness. If you look at verses four through six, Paul's emphasizing the unity of the church by probably quoting an early credo statement, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, and Father of all. As divisions arising within the church and emphasis is, he's saying, “Listen don't forget, you're unified. You have one Lord, you have one baptism.”
And we can't read through that and not lament. The last time I read the number on the number of Protestant denominations that exists is over 35,000. So how many times does the church have to splinter before it comes to a place of peace? That's a really sad history. I think the world looks at that and they have a hard time seeing Jesus one Lord, one faith, one baptism, because we've broken it into so many, and so we have to lament that. But in our pursuit of unity and in Paul's exhortation to unity he goes on. What he does, he does an interesting thing in verses 8 and 9, he's actually quoting Psalm 68 which is what's called an ascension song.
Now, I don't want you to think of Jesus going up into the clouds because that's not really what we're talking about in this case when we talk about ascension. An ascension psalm is about when a king wins and is either enthroned or celebrated for his victory. In the ancient world a couple of things would go along with that victory if you defeated a foreign army or an enemy, one is you would lead a parade of the captives that had been set free. You're responsible for liberating them, and so it would be a show of your strength and the freedom that has been won as a result of the campaign, and you would also give gifts. You might divide the spoils of war, you might give particular gifts to your generals, but as a result of your victory that was part of your role.
And so what Paul is saying is that Jesus has been victorious over sin and death, and he too has led a parade of captives who have been set free. All of those under the bondage of sin and death were his and not only that, but in verses 9 and 10, which are a bit tricky, the gist is this: that the one who ascended in victory, who is Jesus, also descended and descended to give gifts. Paul is probably referring it to the descent of the Spirit subsequent to Jesus victory in which the gifts are given to the Church.
And so Paul goes on to speak of these gifts. He lists the foundational gifts for the church, apostles, prophets, evangelists. Then he goes on to pastoral ministry, to shepherding into teaching. Now, it's important that you realize this is not an exhaustive list of gifts. We probably never get an exhaustive list of gifts, and every time Paul lists gifts they're a little bit different.
The point is that the Holy Spirit grants gifts to the church for the building up of the church. Every believer who is unified to Jesus received gifts for the exclusive sole purpose of building up the body of Christ, which raises two questions immediately, what are your gifts and how are they being utilized to build up the body of Christ? This is what Paul is talking about.
In fact you see the purpose identified in verses 12 and 13. “To equip the saints for the work of ministry for building up the body of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the path, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. You are given gifts that they should be invested in the body of Christ that together we grow up and mature, that we reach the fullness of the stature of Christ.”
Otherwise, We will remain children tossed to and fro by every doctrine. This requires that again in a world that is increasingly lonely and divided that we would look very different, that we would make it a priority to invest in our friendships to the extent that this can actually play out. How does this actually become possible? How do we do it?
This is one of the most, very important aspects of the sermon series on the Holy Spirit, to take a step back for a moment. What's true of almost every passage we've considered on the Holy Spirit is that, A, the Holy Spirit does this and B, you are responsible to participate. You cannot say that you can do it alone, because the Spirit is the one who effects it, but you cannot say that I rely entirely on the Spirit to the extent that I am off the hook, because nothing will ever happen. And so even in our passage today the Spirit is saying I create unity in the church, I bind everyone to Christ and to one another so that they're one body, and at the same time you have to labor and the use of your gifts to build up that body so that it realizes that actual unity. We work in tandem synchronistically with the Spirit to affect this kind of picture.
So how might this play out? Paul gives us a picture of what the church should look like. You see in verses 15 and 16. “Rather speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way and to him who is the head into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped. When each part is working properly makes the body grow, so that it builds itself up in love.”
Yeah, what's Paul saying? Paul reaches for that metaphor that he loves which is the body, the physical body. And just like a body needs all its parts and it needs all of its ligaments, functioning well for the whole thing to function. The Church needs all of its members functioning well and using their gifts for the body to function well, and what does it look like at the end of the day? It looks like a community that builds itself up in love. Paul ends in exactly the same place he began. Remember. Patience, gentleness, right, bearing with one another in love, being committed to the bond of this in unity of the Spirit. And then how does he close that we would build ourselves up in love, and that again requires that you and I make a priority of the relationships that we have here, out in the church.
It means a number of things. First, realize that the church has never arrived. Paul gives us a picture of the church which is growing. It's always developing, it's always being shaped by the Spirit, it's always being given new gifts. It's always building itself up in love. If you think your church has arrived or your denomination has arrived, it quite simply has not.
Second, Paul uses the image of the body that needs every joint to work properly. The church is less when people are present, but not using their gifts, and when people are present and the church isn't employing those gifts in an effective way, then people suffer as well. Increasingly over the years I've seen more and more people exist on the periphery of the church. They come maybe once a month, twice a month, but they're not particularly involved. They take, but they do not give. I'm not going to beat up on anybody today, but going through this passage, how do you expect to be built up in Christ, how do you expect to actually enjoy and benefit from the gifts of the Spirit if you're not really connected into this body in which it all takes place? It's a necessary prerequisite by which you would actually experience this.
Third we're talking about love, love, love, love. A mature church is one characterized by love, humility, gentleness, patience and bearing with one another and that only exists in real relationships, which means your relationships have to exceed what happens on Sunday morning. There's no way that you are ever going to pursue any of these qualities simply in a worship service, an hour and 15 minutes in which you spend almost no time talking to one another, isn't intended to facilitate what Paul is talking about here. You have to actually be a family and invest in one another as a family. Whether that's community group or cultivate group or other venues of connecting with people here and building those relationships, that's how the Spirit is at work.
Fourth, some of you are either hurt or have hurt others and you need to do business with that hurt. You need to repent and seek the unity and the peace of the body, because while you stand in a place where you know that to be true, then you are cooperating with division in the body and preventing a Spirit of peace from dominating the people of God. And even as I exhort that to you, I know I've got business to do there this week. I've hurt others I need to go see about bringing that to a proper conclusion.
The decision that we began with is still before you, and how do you want to live? Do you want to live in a church in which actually it's really simply culture with a Jesus bumper sticker, which means we're not going to have deep relationships, we're going to tend to be cannibalistic, we're always judging one another, we always have contempt for one another. We always keep everyone at arm's length and we think that way we're safe. When we find that there's really no meaning and purpose in our relationships and we were the yes people in the Cigna Survey. Lonely and disconnected or we can start to make sacrifices right? And the children's lesson, that's required to be peacemaker, and we're talking about investing in the bond of peace.
We can seek to love each other, we can seek to build relationships. And then right to utilize our gifts and to benefit from the gifts of others and to actually think I don't grow up simply by myself. I grow up as part of my family and either we grow up together and we don't grow up at all. And so I better be relying upon the Spirit and upon the Spirit bearers that are all around me. This I think is really the purpose, right? Paul is casting this is the mission of the church, that if truly the church is going to be unique, will be a place that's characterized by radical love and community that is not seen in other places.
I've been reading some of Victor Frankl. Victor Frankl is a very famous Holocaust survivor. He's probably most famous for writing Man's Search for Meaning and before he went into the concentration camp he was a neuroscientist and a psychologist and he function that way some to some degree in the camps. He will relay in chronicle some of the most deplorable conditions imaginable. The camps would be just the most filthy place as you can imagine, and they would go and do 12 or 14 hours of physical labor every day and each day they would get a bowl of watery soup, and if your friend was serving the soup you might get a few peas in your soup, and you get a piece of bread and that's what you got for the day and that's why when you look at the pictures, everyone's absolutely emaciated and people were dying left and right.
But what also happened in the camps is people gave up, they simply said, “I don't have a reason to keep going. I've been stripped of all meaning and purpose. I would prefer to die.” And so the suicide rates within the camps was astronomical. In fact, and you were forbidden by the Germans to help anyone in the act of suicide. People would routinely lay down in the dirt and lay there until they died, because the idea of continuing on was utter despair. Frankl would try to work with some of these individuals and two in particular who had given up and were making plans to end their lives.
He dialogued with them and with one he may or may not have a son still living. Frankl said, “Your son is going to need you. You need to try to live for your son so that after liberation you're there for him.” And he said, “Okay.” And he carried on. The other one was a scientist and he had actually, was a very prominent scientist, he had done research that was at the fore front of its field and no one else had really done it, and Frankl said, “Listen you need to still bring your gift of discovery to the world after this war is over. People need to know and learn from you, and if you die it's going to die with you because no one else has done this work.”
And the man said, “Okay, I'll keep going.” And so Frankl's is somewhat famous for kind of chronicling this notion that if you don't have a sense of purpose, then inevitably you will despair, ultimately giving up. I think we see that all around us as we have drifted from allowing any meta narrative, any all controlling story like a Christian story to inform life, there is no meaning and there is no purpose except what you might assign to it, and that ultimately leads to despair and in that despair you have to consume others, right, which is why we see what's going on in society, because there's nothing else to do. You desperately want life. You don't know how to have life, because there's no one who can define meaning and purpose for you. That's too big a responsibility for you to take on, so in that frustration and angst, what do you do? Well you just consume other people right. And that's the world.
But here's Paul saying, you have the most important responsibility ever. You have the most beautiful mission that could be put before you, which is that you can live truly as humanity was intended to live by loving one another and serving one another and in fact I'm going to give you gifts, the gifts that are necessary to build a strong community and as you use your gifts you will find purpose and as other people use their gifts to benefit you, you will be enhanced as well.
This is the community that I have envisioned to tell the story of my gospel to the world. It's in that that we find our identity, it's that that we should run to the Spirit and be eager and in fact it's said if you might have missed it, but how did our passage begin? Paul says, "I a prisoner of the Lord." Paul writes this letter to the Ephesians in chains. Not that he's complaining, right, because he's filled with meaning and purpose. He knows his role, he has gifts to bear, and he's bringing them to bear on the body, so that Christ can be glorified, and we can be made new.
Father we thank you that you have given gifts. Lord Jesus you are to be praised and honored for ascending, for being enthroned as the victorious Lord and Savior and out of your victory, you have provided for us, so let us be nurtured and encouraged by the gifts that you have given, but help us to remember that those gifts are given for a purpose. That we would use them to build up the body and benefit one another. Would you help us to make that a priority. Would you help us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Would you help us to walk in a way that is characterized by love and fierce devotion to a bond of unity and peace. We ask this in Christ name, amen.