Ephesians 4:7-16 Gospel Gifting for the Dominion of Christ
What is a gift? If the church spends so much time speaking about the doctrine of gifts for the sake of the kingdom, then what does that mean? Ephesians 4:7-16 explains how the ascended Jesus rules at the right hand of the Father by saving, gifting, and equipping his Church to serve one another and the Church. One thing is certain, Christ shall have dominion (5:5). The question is, in what manner will he take the dominion? This passage in Ephesians argues that he has gifted his Church with 1) redemption 2) the ordained ministry, and 3) individual graces for the sake of building his kingdom.
Before we move on we need to define terms.
The domata gifts (better translated “spoils of war” or donations) in verse 8 are different from the dwrean gifts of verse 7. They are also distinct from the “gracious things,” ἡ χάρις, in verse 7. There are three distinct ideas in this passage. They all unite in bringing the kingdom of Christ to earth. They are as follows. Christ is taking dominion by:
- Giving the “gift” of redemption to the church, v 7
- Giving the “spoils” of war of the Ministers to the Church, v 8
- Giving the “gracious things” of duty/abilities to the Saints, v 7
By each of these gifts Jesus is taking dominion. He has already won the war, but now is in the mode of despoiling the enemy. This age is marked by already experiencing the ultimate victory which has not yet come. Paul uses the end result, that Jesus will “fulfill all things,” to show that the work is still being accomplished by his work through you in the church.
Think about it this way. It is like D-Day and V-Day. D-day is the decisive battle which made the winner of the war clearly decided. The enemy has not yet surrendered, but they are in retreat. V-day is that final day when everything is finished.
To me, one of the most intriguing things about the Lord of the Rings book series is the appendix at the end of the Return of the King. After the Kingdom is taken, and the war is over, the story goes on for several generations to show what happened after the end of the war. After D-day there was still much that had to be done. This is what Tolkien wanted to show. The war is not over when the war is over.
This is what this age is like. D-day was the cross, but V-day is when Jesus will fulfill all things. However, in the middle between those two there is still work to be done in order to “fulfill all things.” (10). This is what Jesus is doing, and this is why He is gifting you. He plans on rooting out the Devil’s strongholds from every last corner of your life, influence, and legacy. Jesus is giving graciously to you for his own glory and the glory of his Kingdom. Christ will have dominion.
Paul’s Use of Psalm 68:18 as Evidence
The characters in the Psalm are Israel, Yahweh, and the Pagans. Intriguingly Paul takes this typology and shows that Jesus conquered the enemies, death, sin and Satan, for you. Thus, the “gift” in verse 7, refers to a resulting benefit of the work Jesus did on your behalf. Because Jesus conquered the enemy he rules and reigns over you, and he gives the gift of salvation to you.
To illustrate this, transport yourself to ancient Rome. Paul used the figure of the roman arc de triumph in Colossians 2:15. This was a military honor only given to the greatest of victors. The troops would march with the General down the middle of Rome in a parade (Wikipedi this, I have not checked the Wiki article, but this may be helpful to you from context, unless you have Everett Ferguson’s New Testament Background). The soldiers would distribute the booty they wrought from enemy cities to the crowds on the sides of the street. Many slaves would come from these battles and would be distributed to the crowd at random. This was a way of showing the greatness of the general.
This Triumphal March is what Paul (and possibly John in Revelation 21:24) meant when he brought up this idea in Colossians. The Psalm has a very similar picture. This picture gives you the pattern for the nature of what Paul is talking about here. Jesus won the battle and he distributes gifts to you, so you can enjoy the fruits of his Kingdom.
1. Jesus’ Dominion by Redemption, Eph 4:7-10
Jesus conquered for you and gives you the spoils of war. The evidence he cites in 4:8-10 begins with the “therefore it is written” formula. This statement means that what preceded it is supported by this as evidence. So Paul argued that each Christian has a measure of gifting in some area or another in verse 7. Then he supports this by quoting Psalm 68:18. The way the Psalm supports Paul’s argument is by demonstrating that Jesus, like Israel who conquered enemies and took prisoners of war captive as slaves, gave the spoils of war to His troops.
Jesus Conquered for You:
Psalm 68:18b reads “took them as spoils of war” but Paul translates it “gave them as spoils of war” to his men. This is common in Hebrew for depriving some enemy of something and thereby distributing it for others. The idea is that the spoils of war are the result of the conquering king Jesus. Paul actually translates the meaning of the passage best when he rejects the literal translation of the LXX in lieu of this alternate from the Hebrew, even though the rest of the passage remained unaltered by Paul.
Jesus redeemed his people from sin’s enslavement by fighting a battle against Satan, which took him to the grave and back again. Verses 9-10 Paul showed that David was well aware, as a Prophet of what he was signifying, by saying that he descended to the grave and ascended to heaven. This hearkens back to Deuteronomy 30:12 when Moses told Israel that one would come down from heaven, and rise back up, for the sake of gaining their righteousness. Jesus applied this to himself in John 3. This is why Paul adds, that he may “fulfill all things,” v 10. This means that the work that Christ did was a battle between Him and sin, death, the devil, and the devil’s seed. He defeated the enemy on the cross, and ascended in victory to heaven. This means that the state in which we now live is in victory and enjoying the gifts of his victory.
In verse 7, therefore the “gift” is “measured out” specifically as salvation, deliverance from the opposing army. But the “gracious things” (ἡ χάρις) are the results of salvation. These gracious gifts are faith and righteousness and all other results of salvation. This is where we go now. There is the general gift (dwrean) of salvation, the ‘gracious things” (ἡ χάρις) given to each Christian, and the ministers which are spoils of war from the captives (domata).
Paul explained in chapter 2 that these gifts are faith and righteous living. The “gifts” are measured out to “each one” of you from Christ, which refers to the general results of righteous living, cf 2:7-10. Notice the “gift” is specified in this passage as “of Christ.” This should be translated, “with respect to Christ.” The meaning is that the “gift” is the Christian gift. It is the gift of being called out of this world and into new life. Also, this word for gift is also used in verse 2:7-8 to refer to salvation. Finally, the context in 4:1 shows that the command to walk is in a manner worthy of the calling as a Christian. These three factors, the specification of the gift as the measure of Having Christ, the context of the word gift in 2:7, and in 4:1 shows that this “gift refers to the gift of salvation by grace.”
The conclusion that must be drawn from this analogy to a conquering king is that you need Christ to conquer the enemy for you.
2. Jesus’ Dominion by Discipleship, 11-13
Some of the donations in verse 8 are specified in verse 11-13. Not only did Jesus die and rise from the dead to win the victory for you, but this section of Ephesians means that Jesus is giving gifts to you from the victory against the Devil. Here we have the spoils of war made clear. What did Jesus give when he ascended? He gave a Ministry of discipleship.
Ministers (which are listed in verse 11) are gifts to the church. Paul spoke about “donations” or “spoils of war” which he gave to men. These donations are not just talents, but the Ministers themselves. The idea is that God gave these Ministers for the purpose of “equipping the saints.” (4:12)
Much debate arises over the question, what role does the Church have in this world. Unfortunately these people don’t very often make the distinction between the Church as an institution and a body of people. As an institution, the church is made up of professional Ministers (capitol “M”). As a body, it includes the whole church universal. The answer to the question above then is that the church engages the world by means of the Ministry equipping the saints to serve others.
Many ignore the discipleship ministry of the church as the means by which this world will be changed. There is great emphasis on the evangelistic side of the Church, but here Paul shows that there is also something that the Church should be doing with those who are already translated into the Kingdom. The church as an institution is required and given supernatural power which works through ministers to mold and form the hearts of Christians into maturity.
The end result, as Paul argues is that the Church will, not only be brought into it fullness of number, but fullness of maturity. Verse 13 demonstrates that the end result of discipleship is that all in the church will reach the full stature of the fullness of Christ. The basically means that the channel through which Jesus chooses to conform you to the image of Christ is those who he has supernaturally gifted for that task.
I hope this does not sound self serving, but those gifted for the ministry are God’s donation to you as a spoil of war. He won the war against the Devil and set up the teaching/preaching ministry of the Church to build you up to maturity. To press this a little further, you need the Ministry. Many Christians seek to get away from the church in order to “spend time with God.” Or they believe that being “spiritual” means going to the woods and smelling their own feet. Paul points out that true Spirituality is living a life in which you make an effort to both learn from and conform to the teachings of the scripture as taught by professionals.
This is not to say that you do not need to read and understand the Bible, but that is an application for another time. This passage drives home that you need the church. You need Bible study.
3. Jesus’ Dominion by Service
What is the gift? Is it that “Each one” (eni ekastos) is different? Or that the gift is given “according to the gift with respect to Christ [i.e., being a Christian].” Therefore all are the same? Both views have merit to them. In some sense they both are. All are given the same salvation, but “each one” is “given grace” which refers to the particular unique grace that each receives.
The word gift refers to salvation, which results in faith and righteous living (cf. 2:7-10). The words “to each one grace has been given” (ἑνὶ δὲ ἑκάστῳ ἡμῶν ἐδόθη ἡ χάρις) mean that God gave each individual a unique personal grace. This is not apparent at first, so I need to prove this proposition.
There are various lists in the Bible refer to these spirit wrought abilities/duties as pertains only to the ordained ministry (Rom 12:6-8, 1 Cor 12:28-30). Much confusion has come from people trying to fit themselves into a mold that only pertains to ordained ministry when they themselves do not fit that mold. Just google the words “Spiritual Gifts Inventory Test” fill in the bubbles, and you find out that you have the gift of prophecy! You think, “Wow, I like that about me! And I didn’t even ever prophesy! Perhaps I should try…” Then, about six months later people like me have to write papers about your crazy prophecies and how they are not true. You gain fame and fortune, and write bestselling books. And then I start weeping softly in my office. So, a better definition is in order, that we may avoid the weeping.
Properly, this is not “Spiritual gifts” as it is usually called. Rather, it is a set of words that means “Spirit given abilities/duties.” “Grace given” means that a gracious thing is given by God to you. The nature of the thing is first, that it comes from God’s hand; second, it is a thing. Many commentators skip over the fact that substantive adjectives (like the gracious thing here) describe a characteristic about a thing, and so they miss the nature of the thing.
Ephesians 4:16 argues that each one of you has a specific function in the body of Christ. He compares the Church to a “body” which has various parts, and the various parts make up the group of people who serve Christ, the head of the Body. The end result is that it is “built up in love.” (v. 16) The way it does that is “according to the proper working of each individual part.” This is the mutual service to one another who have been taught to do so by the ordained Ministry (v. 12).
I define the gracious thing as a “God given ability/duty.” To understand this we must look at the other places it appears in the New Testament, but especially Ephesians. I don’t want to bore you with tedious word studies, but show the fruit of that labor. I will now proceed in dissecting this definition. “God given” has been explained above.
They are “duties” in the sense that they are real life responsibilities. These graces of God are not abstract ideas, but are based in real life. All Christians have a duty to serve (v. 12), and to love one another (v. 16). The rest of Ephesians, from 4:17-6:9 is twenty-two paragraphs about different duties. They include righteousness, truth, not gossiping, working at you job, forgiveness, business, worship, husbands, wives, children, masters, slaves, etc.
This all seems to be too obvious, but think with me about how freeing this is. It means that God sends you out into the world to do what you are doing now, but to do it in a particularly Christian way. That particularly Christian way of doing things has two parts, serving and refraining from sin. Refraining from sin, which is obvious from the whole Bible (see for example Leviticus, Deuteronomy 5-31, Psalm 119, Psalm 19, Proverbs, Matthew 5-7, Romans 12-15, James 2, Ephesians 4-6, etc) is the natural obvious results of the salvation which Christ gives. Refraining from sin is important, but we can deduce that if God tells us not to do one thing, then the opposite is the thing we are to do. Have fun with that! There are no ends to the pursuit of knowing how the Bible shapes our lives.
The second part of duty is serving. Paul points out in Ephesians 4:12 that the point of the ministry is to equip the saints to serve! Think about this in light of the other component. Refraining from sin tells you to stop. Serve tells you to go. The question is, How does one Serve? There are three parts to this, serving means doing that which helps others, and it does so by taking dominion for Christ, and it is Biblically shaped.
The first part, doing that which helps others, is obvious yet profound. It means that you job, family, friendships, etc all should be in the service of others’ good, not just your own. This takes creativity. Does your job serve others? Do you serve others in your family life? Are you only a drain on your friends, or are you a servant to them? These questions should make you uneasy.
Second, taking dominion for Christ, is a hot button, which is usually only purveyed by the silliest of fundamentalists. Or is it? Paul said, in Ephesians 5:5 that the goal of the Christian is to be in the Kingdom/dominion of Christ. Also, in 2:20-12 he argued that the Kingdom is being built like a temple on the foundation of the Apostles and the prophets. The meaning of this picture is that God is ruling and reigning His people. You already saw this in Psalm 68. Jesus is on the throne. Why then should we be bashful about taking dominion for Christ? If taking dominion for Christ is silly fundamentalism, then Paul is included with the bunch, because he spills much ink on the way in which this should be done in verse 4:17-6:9. However, the point is that this dominion is taken by service to one another. It is not by sword or scheme, but by doing what God expects. This leads to the third point.
Third, the way one lives must be biblically shaped. This life is regulated by God’s word. If you were ever a fan of the Super Soaker water toy products then you know that the more sophisticated squirt guns had variable nozzles which gave different shapes to the spray that came out. This could be used for various purposes. You could drench someone, shoot from far away, spray a mist (I never understood the strategy of the mist setting in water fights) etc. In a very loosely analogous way, the Bible shapes the way our lives our lived. We each have different uses, jobs, skills etc, but the way we do these things must be brought into conformity to the scripture. This is why Paul holds the ministry in such high esteem. They are the hinge which “speaks the truth in love” (15), and “equip the saints” (12). The purpose of the ministry is that they are specifically gifted for the sake of developing others’ gifts by teaching the Word of God to them.
Well, after all that, we move to the other side of the graces of God, namely abilities which God gave. Remember that the definition of “these gracious things” in verse 7 is God given ability/duty. As we dissect the definition we see two parts of the ability. First, you are not able alone. Second, your eyes are enlightened to it.
First, you are not able alone. Like Paul, you are only able to do what God gives to you to do. Jack Handy once said, “If you think you can turn a weakness into a strength, I hate to tell you, but that’s another weakness.” Of course this is a joke, but in some sense it is true. We are adaptable, but only within limits. God made you what you are, and graces you with what you are able to do.
Look at Ephesians 3:7. Here we see that these gracious things which Paul speaks about in Ephesians 4:7 are enabled by God. Paul says, “…I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ” Paul has a little bit of deferential language here. He is being humble, but he is also demonstrating the principle here. Twice, he said, “Grace was given” in verse 3:7-8, which is the same as in 4:7. The gracious thing given to him was to become a minister of the Gospel.
God literally enabled him for the task. This is what must happen to you should you wish to serve Christ in any capacity.
Second, your eyes are enlightened to it. Now obviously most of the work to be done in service to others is outside the walls of the Church. So, how do you know if your gracious things are within or without the walls of the Church? This can sometimes be answered by the following question. Fill in the blank: “I can do nothing but_________.” However, this is subjective, and may misguide some into either over or underestimating themselves. However it can work if done with the following biblical principle in mind.
A more Biblical answer is that God enlightens your mind to truth and you act in light of it. Verse 15 of our text argues that the Church should put off the schemes of men by “speaking truths.” The unity which Paul spoke of in verse 1-6, and again in 16, are accomplished by true teachings. The church is not unified by degrading doctrine, but by founding its beliefs and practices based on the Bible. How does it logically follow that speaking truths results in unity? The answer is that the Holy Spirit enlightens you minds to the truths of the Bible.
Your God given ability/duty is not just a shot in the dark. It is sure, and acts upon conviction based on the Word of God. If you want to define this for yourself, you must engage the scripture. This is what Paul goes on to argue in the next section, verses 17-24 (I recommend stopping and reading that at this point). The Holy Spirit enlightens your mind to the truth.
Everyone is interested in different things in life. Some people are political, legal, family, artsy, electronic, techy, mechanical, gardener, health conscious, theological, etc. This shows just how different people are, and the reality is that God graciously gives you knowledge to carry out these tasks in Biblical ways.
So, the difference between a Christian an pagan is not necessarily in what they do, but how they do it. God has graciously given you as a Christian some capacity to serve others and serve him in his Kingdom.