In his commentary on ‘Ephesians’, John Stott makes the point that not only is there ‘saving grace’, by which we come to faith in Christ; there is also such a thing as ‘serving grace’ by which we express our faith in Christ in particular ministries (7). I believe we could paraphrase this verse by saying, ‘But to each one of us gifts have been given…’ Each part of the body of Christ has a job to do (16). In an atmosphere of honest love, the church grows, and ‘’builds itself up’’ as each member is fully and appropriately employed (15, 16). But it all comes ‘’From him…’’ i.e. the Lord Jesus who is ‘’the Head’’ of the church (15). In the earlier part of the passage it is made clear that the victoriously ascended Lord Jesus gives these ‘grace gifts’ to the church. The Jesus who ‘’descended’’ in the incarnation has also ‘’ascended’’ and His presence fills ‘’the whole universe.’’ (9, 10). The quote in verse 8 is from Psalm 68:18. That psalm pictures God returning to the heavenly sanctuary following the overthrow of Israel’s enemies. Because He is the conqueror, He has a booty; a largesse to distribute. These words are applied by Paul to Christ. They clearly are significant in what they say about Paul’s view of the identity of Jesus. He is none other than God. He has come through death victorious, and the gifts He gives are the spoils of victory. (It’s interesting to note that when a Roman General returned from battle as a winner, he would have a triumphal procession through the streets of Rome. The streets would be thronged with cheering crowds. His defeated foes would walk, heads bowed in shame, behind the conquering army, and the General would throw out the booty, the spoils of battle to the people on both sides of the road. What a picture this is!)
In particular, Paul speaks about the ascended Lord Jesus giving the gift of leaders to His church (11). There are a variety of leadership gifts. These people all lead, but not necessarily in the same way. They don’t all do the same things. But here is the key point. Why have they been given to the church? The answer is in (12): ‘’to equip the saints for the work of the ministry’’ as one translation puts it. Stott says that leaders are not given to the church to monopolise the ministry but to multiply the ministries. Leaders are there to help God’s people detect, develop, discipline and deploy their gifts. As they use them the body of Christ, the church, will be ‘’built up’’ (12).
What will it look like for the church to be ‘built up’? It will mean two things in particular: unity and maturity. The unity is ‘’in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God…’’ As the spokes of a wheel get closer to the hub, the closer they get to each other. So it is with Jesus and the church. The maturity is about Christlikeness – the church becoming more and more like Jesus.
When David Watson was rector of ‘St. Michael Le-Belfrey in York, he was one of the most famous clergymen in the United Kingdom. But he told his congregation, ‘’When people come in here and ask who the minister is, say ‘We all are’.’’ Such a comment beats in time with the rhythm of this passage.
Jesus is Lord and He is building His church through the ‘spoils of war.’ Praise God for all His gracious gifts. We go from victory to victory as we use them in the power of the Spirit.
Prayer: Thank you Lord Jesus for giving my life such eternal significance.