As the Ephesian believers would have heard this letter read to them, they probably were wondering where each of them would fit in to fill the needs in the body. “Where do I fit in this work? I can’t do what that other person does.” Paul made plain to them, and to us, that we all have been gifted by the grace of God to do and be what He intends. No two believers are alike because God has made us to be what He wants us to be. We are all different with different functions to fill in the body. Diversity is a wonderful thing when all parts are working in cooperation with each other. A body functions best when each part is able to accomplish its unique function. There are millions of parts to a human body, but it will not work right even if one small blood vessel bursts in the brain. A stroke, blindness, heart failure and a lot of other problems can come when an unknown part does not do its part for the benefit of the whole body. That principle is in the body of Christ. Each believer has an assigned role in the body and it is important that I fill my role.
There was a prophecy in Psalm 68 that the Christ, the Jews were expecting, would ascend into heaven from earth and when He did He would give gifts to men. This is the depiction of a victorious general in a victory parade coming home from battle and passing out the spoils of war to those troops who were under his command. “He gave gifts to, ‘in,’ men.” The men were the gifts. Christ has apportioned to us what He intends us to have. Before He ascended, He came here to earth “found in fashion as a man.” Before He ascended back to heaven, “He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him…” It was here on earth He “conquered those who conquered us.” His defeat of sin, Satan and death on the cross has made Him a unique Victor who can never be copied. His incarnation and substitution followed by His resurrection, are not able to be duplicated by anything man can do. But in men who are in the flesh a spiritual birth takes place when we personally accept all that Christ has done for us. Our new life in Christ is all because of what He did for each saint. Now this variety of people with all of their diversity has been unified into one body with Christ as the Head.
His ascension into heaven as the Mighty Conqueror has taken place. The Victorious General is now dispensing gifts to “His troops” to be used to further consolidate His kingdom and bring others to enter into that kingdom. The Conqueror is “His Majesty” who is now in heaven. He has a glory from within Himself and had glory added to that by that which He did when He was here. To that is added glory from redeemed people who are able to “glorify God in your body , and in your spirit, which are God’s.” To that there is added more glory when His “glorious Gospel” is preached and others are saved from sin and the wrath to come. The Lord Jesus Christ is also the Supreme Authority who “fills all things.” There is nothing in the universe that is outside the realm of His authority. He who is the universal Judge of all things and the Throne-Sitter will be appropriately honored when “every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Now from the ascended Christ there has been given a wide variety of gifts to be used to continue the work He began when He established the church. The gifts He gave for this purpose are men to meet the needs of other people. This is not God-given abilities listed in Romans 12 and 1st Corinthians 12. The ones listed here are living persons, each with differing gifts. These gifts are persons given by the Lord Jesus Christ to the whole body of believers. These are not gifts to be used only in the local assembly. These began when He gave the commission to the apostles who had been with Him and seen Him physically after His resurrection. Paul saw Him later on the road to Damascus and was the last of the apostles. Along with these men were New Testament prophets who received revelations from the Holy Spirit. They spoke the Word of God to the new believers who formed the church. Now that we have the complete Word of God, apostles and prophets have concluded their foundational ministry which the Lord gave them to accomplish.
The Lord Jesus Christ gave the gifts to accomplish His goals with His grace that has been shown to produce the growth needed to bring the church to maturity. Those diverse gifts were to equip, to “perfect” the believers that they might be built up into a serving, unified, maturing, functional complete body that is conformed to be like Christ. The Lord wants the saints to be well fitted out with a view to fulfilling the work of the church. When that is done the church will be edified itself and qualified to do whatever work in which Christ will be glorified.
There are dangers to be reckoned with that can be avoided by the proper use of these leadership gifts. Immaturity is an on-going matter because there are new believers being added to the church daily. Children are expected to be children for awhile but not to stay childish – “be no more children.” Instability is an issue that has to be guarded against. It causes uncertainty and generates questions that come from human feelings instead of solid faith based on scriptural truth. “Every wind of doctrine” is not trustworthy teaching. Often changes are made when people say, “I am not comfortable with that.” People have gotten used to acting on their feelings in almost every part of life, rather than taking time to think. Thinking based on sound doctrine overcomes instability. There are also deceivers who come among God’s people who appeal to immature, gullible believers. These believers need to be strengthened by those who lead with the truth of God.
Spiritual growth comes from communicating truth consistently and in a Christ-like way in which love is evident. Believers need to be committed to speak the truth in love so that whether the truth hurts or comforts, love is obviously manifested. Not everything that has to be said is pleasant, but when the spirit in which truth is given is right, the results will lead to growing in faith in Christ. Then application of truth with understanding, will affect all things the body does in relation to Christ. Evidence of growth that comes from Christ will unite in one the parts of the body that are next to each other so they will be “fitly joined” in one and working as one. These individuals working as one body are effective as each part of the body fulfills its role. This leads to increasing growth when each part is concerned for effectively working in the sphere of service in which we are called. This will continue world-wide until the church is complete and the Lord comes.