Sunday, April 8, 2007

Ephesians 4 Gifts

Prior to starting the study of Ephesians Chapter 4 I feel compelled to mention an important aspect. Often times, Christians take principles and concepts out of context. The following chapter is a perfect example of that. I have held and still do, that the way we treat non Christians, as opposed to Christians is different. In fact, that is not only the case in tone, but in attitude and expectations. I truly believe that Jesus was the ultimate example of this, he responded totally different to non religious people than he did religious people.

If looking at the life of Jesus, it is easy to see him confronting religious people, even his own followers, but often times, if not most all of the time, loving of the non religious people, whether a tax collector, a prostitute, or whoever else he came into contact with outside of religious beliefs different than his own. Yet, we as Christians, often times seem to take the confront all, speak against all, that is different than what we believe in a harsh directive tone and manner. The following chapter of Ephesians is one in particular that some often use as an example of the right to do this. Here is my challenge, Ephesians, as you can tell from looking at past studies, was a letter of Paul to the Church. Paul is in fact telling the church at Ephesus how they are to treat each other. There is no indication that this is the way we are supposed to treat people outside of our faith.

I have been criticized quite often because of the fact I try to be loving and considerate of people outside of our faith. I am slow to judge, and even slower to condemn. I simply believe it is not my job. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to do his work with those who are not of the same belief. In fact, in all honesty, I will say, that it does not matter what I say, or what I do, other than the fact that the Holy Spirit of God, may, or may not choose to use my words and/or actions. Of course at that point, I also understand that the person has the choice to listen or not. Bottom line though, I have the right, and even obligation to confront my fellow believer of where they may be wrong, even then though, it is to be in love, and with the intent of making right and good with God. When it comes to one who don't believe though, I am to love, share what I believe after relationship is developed, and then let the Holy Spirit do his job.

Now with all of that said, remember, the words we will study today, were words directed towards the church at Ephesus, thus to Christians.

Ephesians Chapter 4

Unity with Christ
(1) As a prisoner of the Lord, I beg you to live in a way that is worthy of the people God has chosen to be his own. (2) Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other. (3) Try your best to let God's Spirit keep your hearts united. Do this by living at peace. (4) All of you are part of the same body. There is only one Spirit of God, just as you were given one hope when you were chosen to be God's people. (5) We have only one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. (6) There is one God who is the Father of all people. Not only is God above all others, but he works by using all of us, and he lives in all of us.

Paul is again letting it be known that he sees Jesus Christ not just as his Savior but as his Lord. He owes him everything, Jesus is seen as a master, and Paul gladly sees himself as a slave. Paul in his own humility is openly willing to beg for the points he is about to present. He cares about the people he is writing, but he also cares that they present themselves as living in a way that illustrates them as displaying God's love for them and their need to live up to God's expectations for them.

Paul starts hitting the message right off the bat with this church in this passage. Telling them to be humble, gentle, patient and loving of each other. One can't help but think of how often those who call themselves Christian don't act this way towards each other. It is important to remember this point a little later on, while there may be times of controversy within the church, among Christians, the way we treat each other should still be following these directives here. Believe me, I know how difficult this is, I know how often I fail, but I also know what I see among others who call themselves Christian. Unfortunately not only are we not these things with each other, we aren't these things with the very ones that God loved so much to send his son to die on a cross for. We confront them, their wrongs, and expect that for some reason we are better than others, again, even Paul, uses these words carefully.

One of the things that I often have difficulty with is the elitism among some denominations. They tend to think they are right and everyone else is wrong. Yet, within this church, and even for all Churches, Paul is asking to find ways to be united and to live in peace. In other words, get along with each other. I can tell you from past experience as a pastor of a church. The reality is that more churches and denominations approach each other from a competitive perspective than they do a loving unified perspective. It is unfortunate, but that is the way it is. All churches, have to make the effort to get along, to help each other in the building of the Kingdom of God, instead of the competition and tearing down of each other. It is one of the things that in my opinion gives validity to the need that The Virtual Pew is a organization and group that works with churches of various denominations. While each church has to be a church that recognizes the basics of the faith in the person of Jesus Christ, we need to be able to make recommendations to the Methodists, Mennonites, Baptists, and Non Denominational among others. The truth of it is we serve the one God. We are a part of the same body and the Holy Spirit has the ability to bring us together.

These verses also display the nature of what many Christians call The Trinity. Notice there is a distinct purpose of God, The Son, (Jesus Christ), and The Holy Spirit. Involved with all of that is the closing comment that all will work with those who call Jesus Leader and Forgiver. The concept that God works, while using us, is a concept I still marvel at. To think that God would choose to use me is unimaginable. Yet, that is exactly what God does, not just for me, but for all who have a relationship with his son Jesus Christ.

1. How does Paul see himself in this passage?
2. How should we see ourselves?
3. What does it mean to be humble, gentle, and patient?
4. When Paul says be united and live in peace, what is he talking about?
5. What happens if we don't allow God to use us?

(7) Christ has generously divided out his gifts to us. (8) As the Scriptures say,

"When he went up

to the highest place,

he led away many prisoners

and gave gifts to people."

This is an amazing passage of scripture that would be easy to loose sight of if we are not careful. There is the powerful concept that Jesus has given gifts to his followers. I often strongly encourage followers of Christ to take a gifts assessment test to see where their gifts are at. I actually have a couple of assessment tests that I strongly believe in but know others exist. For Christians who have not done this, I strongly encourage you to give it a shot. It will help let you know where your gifts are at from a Biblical perspective, but they will also give clarity as to why you are the way you are. I would encourage you taking one of these tests, then getting with your pastor, and or ministry leader and have them help you explore how you can use those gifts. For those that depend on The Virtual Pew, get with me, email me at and I will get you an assessment, go over the tests with you, and help you explore the best ways to use those Christ given gifts to help where you are, and to help with The Virtual Pew if that is the place God is calling you.

I have several Christmas gifts that are still in their packaging. I opened them from their Christmas wrapping but haven't opened their other packaging yet and put them to use. I will assure you, until I do so I won't experience the full benefit of those gifts. The same can be said with the gifts that Christ has given you if you are a follower of Jesus. It is time to open up all of the wrapping, and put the gifts to use.

1. Have you taken a gifts assessment?
2. What are your gifts?
3. How are you using the gifts God gave you?
4. How do your gifts help others?
5. Would you like to be used by God?
6. What are you doing to be used by God?

(9) When it says, "he went up," it means that Christ had been deep in the earth. (10) This also means that the one who went deep into the earth is the same one who went into the highest heaven, so that he would fill the whole universe.

(11) Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, (12) so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong. (13) This will continue until we are united by our faith and by our understanding of the Son of God. Then we will be mature, just as Christ is, and we will be completely like him. (14) We must stop acting like children. We must not let deceitful people trick us by their false teachings, which are like winds that toss us around from place to place. (15) Love should always make us tell the truth. Then we will grow in every way and be more like Christ, the head (16) of the body. Christ holds it together and makes all of its parts work perfectly, as it grows and becomes strong because of love.

Some say, and I tend to agree, that Paul is reminding the church at Ephesus that Jesus went through the ultimate sacrifice for them. He literally went into Hell, and then ascended to, and went up into Heaven where he now resides. From Heaven, Christ can look over the earth, look over his people, and then be there to assist and direct the Holy Spirit as to what to do.

We need to recognize, Jesus is the giver of gifts. We can't change what he gave to whom. Bottom line though, he knew what gift was best for each individual and gave that individual those gifts. He gave these gifts so that people could learn and better serve each other. Notice the gifts are not for our own benefit per say, but for the benefit of others. I fully believe, if you aren't using your gifts to help the body or help other Christians or those who don't believe in Jesus, then you are not really using the gifts that God gave you.

Verse 13 is critical, Paul is telling us that God is going to use this method until we reach maturity. For many, the belief is that we never reach full maturity until we get to Heaven. I don't know about this. I do believe that we should continue to mature, as we get older, not just in our faith but in years. We should learn in such away that we have begin to take on these attributes that Paul talks about. As we mature, as we use the gifts God has given us to serve others, the more we become like Christ. Remember, Jesus was at peace and able to totally love every individual, no matter how much harm they chose to bring to him. Jesus was content, and able to do incredible works. As we exercise the things that Paul is talking about to the church of Ephesus, as we begin to use our gifts and serve each other, remember, we become more like Jesus in all ways.

Paul then goes on and gives a little strong admonition here. It is kind of contrary to other passages of scripture if you think about it. Some say we should become like Children, yet, Paul here is telling us to quit acting like children. He tells us this, I believe with the understanding that we have to be careful about what we listen to, and who we listen to.

One of the things I think the church has not done a good job of is looking at Scripture in its entirety and then evaluating the teachings of scripture with each other, thus finding a practical and consistent application. In the preamble to this posting I mentioned a way I think we do that. Christians treat non Christians like they should be Christians, often times misapplying scripture as a justification of doing that. They could simply look at the Bible in its entirety and evaluate what has to be a logical conclusion. I believe that looking at the life and teachings of Christ and the apostles provide quality examples to learn from. Yet, what do we often do? We listen to television or radio preachers tell us what to think. They tell us what to think because they don't think the Holy Spirit can do his job. They Holy Spirit has to have others tell us the meaning of scripture. I would say be careful here, be careful about that radio preacher, that television preacher, even that internet preacher Mike Furches. Measure what I and or any other pastor says with the message of the Bible. Of course we can't know that message if we don't read it and apply it to our lives. Then again, we can't fully know it if we don't follow the directives that Paul has already given in the first several verses of this passage.

There is a major reason people don't follow these concepts though, the first word of verse 15 gives us a good indication as to what is needed here, LOVE! The bottom line is, we talk a good game about love, but we don't really love. We say we do, we say things like, "I’ll pray for you," then we don't. We say things like, "If you need me for anything let me know," then we don't follow through. Truth is, many Christians have forgotten how to love. Jesus is the ultimate measure of what love means. Yet truth be told we don't want to be like Jesus, because to be like Jesus means we take up our cross and we follow him daily. Did you hear that? We take up our cross, which means exactly for us what it meant for Jesus, great sacrifice and ultimately death, not per say a physical death, although in many parts of the world that is exactly what it means, but certainly a spiritual death to the point that we give up and turn from all of the things that would cause us to not be like Jesus. Just as Jesus was able to raise from the dead, he is able to bring people together that have minor points of theological difference. He can bring us together and hold us together to accomplish the things that God desires for this world. A world where we care for the poor and needy, provide hope to the hopeless, homes to the homeless, food to the hungry, rehabilitation to the prisoner and on and on. The things Jesus desires for this world are illustrated in the way he led his life and in the life of those he touched.

1. Why is it important that Jesus went to Hell?
2. Why is it important that Jesus went to Heaven?
3. Do you think the gifts listed are the only gifts?
4. Why or Why not would there be other gifts that Christ might give?
5. What would some of those gifts be?
6. How can you become more like Jesus?
7. How do you determine who you listen to and learn from regarding religious things?
8. How do you determine if a teaching is true or false?
9. Why would some teachers trick us into accepting their teachings?
10. What does it mean for you to become like Jesus?

The Old Life and the New Life
(17) As a follower of the Lord, I order you to stop living like stupid, godless people. (18) Their minds are in the dark, and they are stubborn and ignorant and have missed out on the life that comes from God. They no longer have any feelings about what is right, (19) and they are so greedy that they do all kinds of indecent things.
(20-21) But that isn't what you were taught about Jesus Christ. He is the truth, and you heard about him and learned about him. (22) You were told that your foolish desires will destroy you and that you must give up your old way of life with all its bad habits. (23) Let the Spirit change your way of thinking (24) and make you into a new person. You were created to be like God, and so you must please him and be truly holy.

Paul takes a step out of the norm here, he recognizes that there are those who don't accept God who are stupid and godless. He talks about how they are stubborn, ignorant and have missed out on all that comes from God. Paul also makes several other negative comments here towards the non follower of Christ. I will note here, I can't deny what he is saying, but we need to remember, he isn't trying to per say point out the wrongs of the non follower of Jesus, but reminding people who are followers of Christ as to what their lives used to be like. These individuals already know the truth. One of the concerns I have here, is that people would use this passage to address any non follower of Jesus in this way. From Paul's actions around others, in the way he reached out to them I don't think this is Paul's intent. I think his intent is to make clear to the Christians, in essence he is saying "You used to live this way, now quit."

Notice the second part of the passage starts out talking about how the church was taught about how to act, they were taught about Jesus. Paul really hits this topic hard. One has to look at these verses in their entirety to have an understanding of what Paul is trying to say. Yes, after the fact, we all did some stupid, godless, ignorant things. Yet we have been taught about Jesus and the time for change is now. There comes a point in time that we have to change our ways. Now I firmly believe that God is involved in that, God helps people know when that time is. In fact, most people don't like who they are, they want to change, often times they don’t know how. I think one reason Paul may be addressing this is that he wants the people who follow Jesus to act different. They need to be examples to others as to the correct way to act and behave.

Now on this point, notice there is a difference between again, the way I believe Paul addresses Christians and non Christians, here he is speaking specifically to Christians, it isn't the non Christians he is speaking to making these comments to. It is Christians. Some have again confused my own expectations of Christians in the things they do and don't do. It is a difficult area, I know an area I have at times failed myself. It is difficult because we have to distinguish between cultural issues, and legitimate spiritual issues. We have difficulty and we all base our views on our own interpretation of the Bible. Likely the closest to taking a pure Biblical approach is people like the Amish, yet I don't think that is the answer either. I think becoming holy, means doing things that brings us closer to God as opposed to pushing him further away from us. Within this area, there are certainly the clear sinful things, wrong things like stealing, murder and so forth. But there are other things that may be sinful for some and not others, things like drinking a beer, or going to a movie. That is where Romans 14 comes into play. It all comes down to in part, following through with that maturity thing, listening to the directives Paul is giving, using your gifts, serving others and so forth.

Last note here, in support of my position, notice who it is that makes the change. We don't by the name calling, the confrontation and so forth make people change. It is the Holy Spirit that brings about change in people. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we will become more like God, which is more in tune with what God wants for each of us.

1. Notice Paul starts off addressing this to those who are a follower of the Lord, who are followers of the Lord?
2. What types of stupid, ignorant, godless things have you done before?
3. Are there any of those things that you need to break away from and quit doing?
4. Who is the model we pattern our lives after?
5. Who is the one responsible for helping us change our ways?

Rules for the New Life
(25) We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. (26) Don't get so angry that you sin. Don't go to bed angry (27) and don't give the devil a chance.
(28) If you are a thief, quit stealing. Be honest and work hard, so you will have something to give to people in need.

(29) Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.

(30) Don't make God's Spirit sad. The Spirit makes you sure that someday you will be free from your sins.

(31) Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. (32) Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.

Paul before closing this section, talks about the rules for the new life we now have once we have accepted Jesus as our Leader and Forgiver. We have to stop lying, lying is a way to make ourselves look better, it really isn't about doing or making God look better. It seems as if Christians are in that sense of competition I spoke about earlier as much as anyone. We get to the point we have to prove our point, and when someone disagrees, we get angry. Notice Paul don't say don't get angry, he says don't get so angry that we sin. There is room for what I call a controlled anger, especially if over theological issues, but don't let that anger dwell within you, especially to the point that you are wishing ill on the person you are angry at.

Paul also starts to address specific areas, he addresses theft, which is really self explanatory. We could talk about theft from employers by spending too much time on the internet, or lying about the day off and other forms of theft, but the Holy Spirit will make those areas clear to you when you need clarity.

Then there is the section of dirty talk. I really believe here, that many have misinterpreted what this means. Language, especially cultural language is not what I think Paul is addressing, I have some indication of that from other writings in the Bible, but also here. Notice here, the follow up is talking about what you do for other, how you build others up. I think that dirty talk is in reference more about how we treat others and by honoring our word. I could do a whole series on this topic, but think about hit.

When we do wrong, when we ignore what God wants us to do, we make the Spirit sad. I have to admit, I have done this and I know that every single person reading this has done this. The question is, do we keep doing it? I honestly believe that as we get older, as we mature, as we use our gifts, as we serve, then, we get to the place where we sin less. I know that to be a fact in my own life. It is why I strongly encourage you to think about, read, reread, and apply the truths you get out of this teaching today.

Paul is closing this passage, really talking more about relationship than anything. How do we get along? How do we show love to each other? It all comes down to actions. Are we kind to others? What does that kindness mean? Do we show others compassion and mercy? What does that mean? Do we forgive others? What does that mean? I know that I am as guilty of not doing some of these things as the next guy or gal. That is not an excuse to keep on with that type of action or behavior though.

As we come to know and become more like Jesus after we ask him to come into our lives and be our forgiver an leader, we will realize that he has something special for us. Christ loves each of us enough to give us gifts. As we receive those gifts, it is expected that we use them to serve and help others. As we do that, we become more and more like Jesus, in our attitudes, and in our life walk. I guess the question here is, "Where are we in that process?"

1. What does it mean when it says we are a part of the same body?
2. How should we treat each other?
3. What are ways you have made God's Spirit sad?
4. How can you make God's Spirit happy?

Now for those that do not know, make sure you check out the numerous articles and blogs by checking out the archives. If visiting The Virtual Pew or MySpace they are archived on the left hand side of the page. Scroll down to where you see newer or older listed under archives and then click there. There are numerous postings, and you will have to go into the archives to see the 100 plus postings over the last months.

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Oh Yea, here is that contact information again.

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