Key text: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12).
Lesson objective: To understand that the high calling of Christ is not for the purpose of individual accomplishment and recognition, but to be team members with the sole purpose of serving the whole body for the edification of all.
Introduction: The Olympic Games are internationally recognized events where each competing nation presents the best of their athletes. In theory, they all compete under the rules of fair play, but in reality the better trained and equipped athletes, with few exceptions, are the better financed and also the medal winners! This does not mean all the competitors don’t try their best, because they certainly do, but one can hardly call it fair play! Even so, all the individual and team performances are geared up for one thing only: To win that coveted gold medal. Or, if the losing party protests with enough big media backing, the judges may even grant double gold medals! I suppose for “home and country” we can all be Olympic fans to some degree.
While many get carried away with the glamour and politics of the Olympics, it seems that the church unconsciously follows a similar pattern. When the church loses its focus, it also becomes competitive and political. The church competes for members, positions, programs and dollars. Power-plays become evident among its clergy, while members eagerly await the next scandal! Sometimes it seems that the church can’t tear itself down fast enough and bring down as many as it can on its way down. Obviously, this is not the way God planned it!
The church regains its focus when it turns from self-centeredness and looks once again to its Head, Jesus Christ. In Christ the church is built up, not torn down. Through his death and resurrection, Christ has defeated and triumphed over all the foes of the church. And he has given gifts to every member of his body, the church (4:7-10). In giving apostles and prophets, he has given foundational gifts on which the church can stand. He gives functional gifts of ministry or service by equipping the church through evangelists, pastors and teachers (v. 11).
Every member is uniquely gifted in one ministry or another for the building up of his church (v. 12). The purpose of Christ’s gifts is so the church may mature into the fullness of adulthood and not be swayed by false teachings (vv. 13-16). The church universal and at the local level needs to mature in love so as not to lose focus and blur its vision with the carnality and egocentrism of this fallen world.
As Paul states, like the games, we run a race, but the race we run is not for gold, silver or bronze medals (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We run a race for the prize of the high calling in Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:10-16). We continue in the path of our Lord and Savior and await his glorious coming and the crown of righteousness unto eternal life (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Now, that is a prize worth running for! And, in Christ it is already ours (1 John 5:13). Amen!
Questions for Bible Study
Read the following verses and respond to the questions:
1. Ephesians 4:7-10
a. What has been apportioned? By whom? To whom? v. 7. What does Paul mean here by the word “grace”? See 1 Peter 4:10.
b. In the context of Ephesians, why does Paul quote this psalm? v. 8. See Colossians 2:15. Note: The analogy is taken from a victorious military leader returning home with a procession of prisoners of war following behind him. Tribute from the spoils of the conquest is rewarded to the victor, who in turn showers the cheering spectators with generous gifts.
c. What is Paul’s messianic interpretation of the psalm? v. 9. What does he mean by the “lower, earthly regions”? Does he mean that Christ descended to the abode of souls in hell? Note: It is probably more correct to contrast heaven with the great gulf that separates it from the lower earth, that is, earth is at the bottom. If this is the case, then Paul is referring to the Incarnation (Christ’s First Advent), when he came here below.
d. To what event is Paul referring to here? v. 10. Explain. See Acts 1:9-11; 2:29-36; Hebrews 4:14; 7:26.
2. Ephesians 4:11-12
a. Who is it that gave these gifts to the church? v. 11a. See Acts 2:32-33. What is meant by the foundational gift of “apostles”?
b. What is meant by the foundational gift of “prophets”? v. 11b.
c. What is meant by the functional gift of “evangelists”? v. 11c.
d. What is meant by the functional gift of “pastors and teachers”? v. 11d.
e. What purpose do the above gifts serve? v. 12a. How is this done in practical terms in your local church (be specific)?
f. What have you been equipped to do as a local member of the church? Have you been trained for ministry (service)? Why or why not (be constructive in your answer)?
g. What should be the result of implementing a united ministry? v. 12b. Is this taking place in your local church? Why or why not? What can you do to improve the situation?
3. Ephesians 4:13-16
a. What three goals are outlined in this verse to ensure the well-being of the church? v. 13. Note: The first two have to do with unity and the third is the resulting outcome.
b. In your opinion, what level of maturity has your local church reached? Do you consider yourself a mature or immature Christian? Why?
c. What is one sure sign of having reached Christian maturity? v. 14. Note: The analogy is that of a ship without a steady rudder. The ship is tossed back and forth with every wave and every wind that comes upon it.
d. How well do you know the Holy Scriptures? How well do you know orthodox evangelical doctrine? Can you defend yourself against heretics who know the Scriptures well but twist them to fit their false cultic teachings? Give examples of when you have had to defend the faith against false doctrines.
e. What is another sure sign of Christian maturity? v. 15a. Why?
f. What is God’s desire for every member of the church? v. 15b. How is the whole body benefited in this way? v. 16.
Respond to the following questions:
1. How well are you running the race of Christian maturity? Are you still at the starting gate? Or are you halfway there but out of breath? Or maybe you are on the last lap and stretching out for the finish line? See 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.
2. How many “believers” do you know who started out well but lost focus along the way? How does one get to that final lap and maintain his or her eye on the finish line? See Philippians 3:10-16.
3. When your life is through in this world, what epithet would you like to be remembered with by the church? See 2 Timothy 4:6-8.
4. We share many tasks or vocations (callings) in this life, but our highest calling is to share in the ministry of Jesus Christ. There is one ministry, but a variety of services to perform. To which of these are you called? How effectively do you contribute to the edification of the whole body?
Jesus Christ has showered his church with an abundance of gifts that overflow into the seats and aisles of its ministry. May every believer answer his or her calling and mature in love to the building up of the whole body. Amen.
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo