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Ephesians: The Epistle of Ascension

Paul's epistle to the Ephesians is, in some ways, a continuation of his epistle to the Romans. It enlarges upon Romans 1-8 in regard to the believer's position and right standing with God. We are "seated" with Christ, so we must "walk" according to our calling, and "stand" in the full armor of God against those who would oppose us.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 15

God’s Gifts

Eph. 4:7 says,

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

The usual definition of grace is “unmerited favor.” While that is certainly true, it also is an expression of the sovereignty of God. Grace is something that God does by His own will, as opposed to something that man does by his own will. That is why the remnant of grace is a body of people whom God has chosen. Rom. 11:4-6 says,

4 But what is the divine response to him [Elijah]? “I have kept for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” 5 In the same way, then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.

God chose and kept these 7,000 for Himself by His own decision, that is, His own will. As with Jacob, He chose Jacob before birth to make it clear to all that His choice was not based on Jacob’s good works (Rom. 9:11). Works are done according to the will of the one who is working. Hence, grace is the word describing the outworking of God’s will. Jacob was transformed into an overcomer (“Israel”) because God chose to train him by circumstances and thereby impart faith to him.

By grace, God gives gifts. Wages are earned; gifts are unearned. One does not work for a gift, nor is a gift given through the prayers or demands of the one receiving the gift. It is not proper to pray, “God, give me this grace.” Neither is it proper to ask God, “Why have you not given me grace, since I have done so many things for You?”

Paul already told us earlier in Eph. 2:8, 9 that faith is “the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” That is why we were saved “by grace through faith.” God chose us by His own will, spoke to our hearts, opened our ears and eyes, and because of His gracious work in us, we responded by faith.

God then saw that response of faith and credited it to us as righteousness (Rom. 4:2, 3). We have no reason to boast of this, as if to say that our faith originated in our hearts. We can only be thankful that He chose us and planted justifying faith in our hearts. In fact, most of us can look back and realize that God had been preparing our hearts long before we had faith in Him. That prior preparation was God’s way of opening our ears so that, when He spoke, we would hear His call.

Various Measures of Faith

The point is that by grace we were all given a measure of Christ’s gift. Christ alone was given the full measure of the Spirit and authority; we have measures (of gifts) which, though lesser, are very important. Paul mentions these in Rom. 12:3, 4, and 6,

3 For through the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you… God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function… 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith.

Paul then goes on to give other examples of these gifts: service, teaching, exhortation, leadership, mercy, and even love. In 1 Cor. 12:4 Paul again says, “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit.” He then lists nine of them in 1 Cor. 12:8-10—word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, effecting of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues. Each has its own measure of faith that God has imparted by His own will.

The Purpose for His Ascension

In Ephesians 4 Paul passed over these gifts of the Spirit to show other gifts that had been given to the church as a whole. These are the fivefold ministry, which we will address shortly. Paul introduces this topic in Eph. 4:8,

8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men.”

Paul’s quotation is taken from Psalm 68:17, 18,

17 The chariots of God are myriads [lit., “twice ten thousand”], thousands upon thousands; the Lord is among them as at Sinai in holiness. 18 You have ascended on high, You have led captive Your captives; You have received gifts among men, even among the rebellious also, that the Lord God may dwell there.

Note that the psalmist was referring to Mount Sinai, where God descended upon the mount with “chariots.” Deut. 33:2 says that “He came from the midst of ten thousand holy ones.” It is also a quotation from the first chapter of the book of Enoch, quoted in Jude 14, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones.”

(If Enoch, the patriarch, actually wrote this, then Moses was quoting Enoch, not the other way around. Most scholars date Enoch after the Babylonian captivity, and if so, this would mean that Jude was quoting the book—not necessarily the patriarch himself.)

The scene at Mount Sinai set a prophetic pattern of Christ’s second coming as well. Paul derived much of his terminology about the second coming from the description of Moses. When Moses went up the mount into the cloud “to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thess. 4:17), he set the pattern first of Christ’s ascension after His first coming, and secondly our own ascension to meet Christ at His second coming. Moses’ return from the mount gave Paul the terminology to describe Christ’s return.

In the days of Moses, the people refused to ascend the mount, for they were afraid (Exodus 20:20), so Moses ascended alone into “the thick cloud” (Exodus 20:21). This set the pattern for Jesus Himself, who ascended to heaven in “a cloud” (Acts 1:9).

Moses ascended on the day of Pentecost, while Jesus ascended ten days prior to Pentecost, but both ascensions were designed to prepare the way for God to give gifts to the church.

However, in the days of Moses, the Israelites were unprepared to receive the spiritual gifts. So these gifts were withheld from the church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38 KJV) for another 1480 years when 120 of Jesus’ disciples ascended to the upper room. In the New Testament, these 120 disciples accepted these gifts on behalf of the new Pentecostal church. They were able to do so, because New Covenant faith had replaced Old Covenant fear.

Jesus told His disciples in John 16:7,

7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

The “advantage,” at least in part, was that the gifts of the Spirit could not be distributed to the people until the Spirit Himself had been given. Of course, we know that the Holy Spirit has been fluttering in the earth at least since Gen. 1:2, and that many Old Testament prophets exercised the gifts of the Spirit. Pentecost, however, made it possible to distribute those gifts to a much broader group, so that the gifts were no longer limited to the few.

Descending and Ascending

Eph. 4:9, 10 says,

9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.)

As we have shown, God first descended upon Mount Sinai with myriads of holy ones, and Moses ascended to meet Him (or them) in the cloud. This is about both descending and ascending. So Paul tells us that Christ’s ascension to heaven implies a previous descension to the earth.

Paul goes further to say that Christ’s descent to the earth was completed when He went “into the lower parts of the earth,” that is, hades, the grave. His body was placed in the tomb, but His soul descended into hades (Acts 2:31), but He was not “abandoned” there. He rose on the third day, taught the disciples for 40 days (Acts 1:3), and then ascended to heaven, “so that He might fill all things.”

This is a reminder of Eph. 1:20-23, where we see that Christ ascended to subject all things under His feet through the church, “which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”

The Fivefold Ministry

Paul continues in Eph. 4:11, 12,

11 As He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.

The fivefold ministry represented five gifts that God gave to the church as the result of His ascension. It is not that these five ministries were unknown in Old Testament times, but that a great increase of those ministries was launched. Their purpose was to equip the saints themselves to do the work of ministry (or “service”).

This is the principle of teaching the teachers. One can also view these as parents of the church. It is the work of spiritual fathers to bring children to maturity so that they can have the skills to minister to the world.

Unfortunately, many denominations have either relegated the fivefold ministry to the apostles themselves (ending with the death of John), or they have treated the fivefold ministry as if they were the professionals that were called to do most of the work of ministry. However, Paul makes it clear that the fivefold ministry was a gift to the church to equip THEM to minister.

Even “the rebellious” ones were allowed to benefit from the ministry gifts (Psalm 68:18). Perhaps the psalmist had Korah in mind (Numbers 16), as we will discuss shortly. Of course, such rebellious ones, who seek callings apart from the sovereign will of God, need to deal with their heart of rebellion in order to attain the stature of Christ.

In the days of Moses, we see the same problem in the church in the wilderness. The people sent Moses up the mount to hear God on their behalf (Exodus 20:19). Essentially, they wanted a professional priest to get the revelation of God, giving it secondhand to the people. The people were afraid to hear God for themselves, and this created an indirect relationship with God, characterized by the Old Covenant.

Such a class of priesthood is prevalent today in the denominational church systems. But this runs contrary to Eph. 4:11, 12, where the people themselves were to be equipped as the ministers, carrying the gospel of the Kingdom to all parts of the earth.

The Israelites under Moses had two problems. The first was that they wanted Moses to be their professional preacher, receive all the revelation, and then tell the people what God had revealed. The result was that the people refused to believe what Moses was telling them. After all, if they were too fearful to hear the fiery law of God for themselves, how could they fearlessly hear the same fiery law from an alternate source like Moses?

The second problem is seen in the Korah rebellion in Num. 16:3,

3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

Korah was partially correct. Certainly, the whole church was holy (set aside for divine service). However, they went too far by rebelling against those whom God had anointed to lead. At the time, these anointed ones were Moses and Aaron. Leadership was called to equip the saints and bring them all to maturity, as Paul tells us. Today they are the fivefold ministry, whose callings are genuine. Their authority is not to be disdained just because “all the congregation are holy.”

As long as the fivefold ministry continues to work themselves out of a job by equipping the saints to minister, the students who are maturing ought not to reject their teachers, prophets, and pastors. In the Korah rebellion, their arguments had a lot of merit, but they ignored the fact that the holy congregation had been the ones who set up Moses as the professional preacher.

Of course, we also know that Korah’s underlying motive was to replace Aaron as the high priest of Israel. He and his fellow Levites were seeking the priesthood—a calling that was reserved for the sons of Aaron (Num. 16:10).

There are many throughout history who have desired a calling that was not theirs. Each needs to seek the will of God to discover his/her own calling, for it is only by finding one’s place in the body that true happiness can be found.

Eph. 4:13 concludes,

13 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.

This brings us back to Paul’s theme of unity in verses 3-6. True unity is achieved, not when all are forced by threats to hold the same opinions and creeds, but when we all come to the same level of spiritual maturity that manifests “the fullness of Christ,” that is, His character.

Result of the Gifts

After telling us that God had given the fivefold ministry to the church as gifts, Paul writes in Eph. 4:14,

14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;

The fivefold ministry is called to bring believers “to a mature man” (Eph. 4:13), “no longer to be children.” In Paul’s mind, this meant they would be grounded in the word and in the knowledge of the truth, so that they would not continually change their views with every passing teacher or philosopher.

Of course, we understand that every time a teacher from the fivefold ministry exercises his gift, lives ought to be changed and understandings deepened. But Paul was referring to informed believers who had solid understanding of the word and knew why they believed what they did. This takes time.

Many years ago, I heard it said by a wise preacher that it takes about five years for someone to gain a good grasp of the gospel of the Kingdom. Perhaps that statement was true, but it depends largely on the teacher and the amount of time that the student is willing to spend to gain understanding. Five years can make a huge difference, but I was still learning life-changing things after 50 years, as God built more layers upon my first revelation in 1962. One should never cease to learn new and deeper things.

Truth in Love

Paul asserts a further requirement in Eph. 4:15, 16,

15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

Because “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and because we are being prepared to be His image, it is clear that love is the ultimate sign of spiritual maturity. Learning the word of God is not an end in itself. In fact, if it does not lead to an increase in love, we must question the source and validity of those doctrines and teachings being taught. The word is a seed (1 Peter 1:23), and when it sprouts and bears fruit, the fruit must taste like love.

The characteristics of love are best described in 1 Corinthians 13. I covered that chapter in greater detail in Book 3 of my Commentary entitled, 1 Corinthians, the Epistle of Sanctification.

Paul says that it is by “speaking the truth in love” that “we are to grow up in all aspects into Him.” In other words, if the words coming from our mouths do not manifest love, then we are not growing to maturity. I would go further by saying that if love is not the fruit of our lips, then perhaps we should examine the quality of the seed that was planted in our hearts. Where did we learn that which we believe to be truth? There are whole denominations that were founded on dissention and conflict, sometimes with bitterness and even murder in the name of truth. Psalm 127:1 tells us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.”

Champions of Truth have not often been Champions of Love. When truth is just a doctrine, it is just grass seed that has a beautiful appearance when it flowers, but in the end, because it is fleshly seed that is mortal and corruptible, it fades and dies (1 Peter 1:24, 25).

The enduring quality of genuine Truth is that the seed from which it sprang is the word of God, who is Love.

Love and Spiritual Maturity

Spiritual maturity itself can be measured by our ability to love as Christ loved. The Greek language itself had three main words all translated love—but with different implications: eros, phileo, and agape. The first describes physical attraction, the second brotherly love, and the third the love of God. Scripture does not even mention eros, because the word of God calls us to higher forms of love.

There is also a fourth called storge, parental affection for their children. Paul uses this term in the negative, astorgos, “without natural affection” in Rom. 1:31 (KJV) and 2 Tim. 3:3 (KJV).

Eros is the most superficial type of love. Those who remain in that way of life are the most immature of all. Phileo is a 50/50 relationship, which siblings know as fairness. This stage of love is where parents teach their children the basic principles of justice and how to respect the property of others. Agape is mature love, where children learn the principles of grace and mercy, not always demanding justice but searching for the best way to benefit others before oneself.

When it ceases to be “all about me,” then it can be said that a child is moving into an understanding of the love of God. Only when agape becomes the normal manner of life for the church will all the body parts begin to function as a unit, each using its peculiar calling to support all the other parts.

The bottom line is that love “causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”