The Ninth in a Series of Sermons on Ephesians
When God called us to faith in Jesus Christ he added us to Christ’s church. Paul refers to this church as the “body of Jesus Christ.” Once we become members of that church we are to strive for unity within the body by living humbly, acting gently, and bearing one another’s burdens in love. Paul’s point is that we are to strive eagerly to maintain the unity of the Spirt in the bond of peace, because it is Christ’s one body to which we’ve been added by grace through faith. But God does not command this of us, and then leave us on our own. When Jesus ascended into heaven, Paul says, Jesus gave to his church gifts–everything we need to ensure that Christ’s church functions properly, and so that we are equipped to be built up in love, maturing, and together growing into the fullness of Christ.
As we continue our series on Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, we have made our way into the second half of this epistle (chapters 4-6). Paul begins to work out the application of those same doctrines he has set forth in chapters 1-3. As we work our way through Ephesians 4, I am dividing the chapter into three sections. We covered the first of these three sections last time–Paul’s exhortation regarding Christian unity as exemplified in the words of the creed given us by Paul in verses 4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Paul’s point is that we are to confess this faith with our lips, and then strive to make sure that our lives match our profession.
In verses 7-16, Paul takes up the subject of God’s provision for the spiritual health and growth of the church. Within this section of Ephesians 4, there are two different topics which are the source of some fair bit of controversy in Reformed circles. The first has to do with the question as to what Paul means when he speaks of Christ’s “descent into lower regions.” The issue under debate here is “did Jesus actually descend into Hell after his death upon the cross?” The Reformed have always said “no” to that question, following John Calvin in understanding Christ’s death upon the cross as his suffering the anguish of Hell. Jesus himself steers us in this direction when he speaks of his own messianic mission in terms of a descent to earth, followed by an ascent to his Father upon completion of his redemptive work.
The second point of contention arises from Paul’s discussion of Christ giving gifts to the churches so that they might grow into maturity. Here the question is, “is it God’s desire that every member of the church be equipped for `ministry’ (the so-called `every member ministry’ model)? Or does God give ministers to the church whose task it is to bring the saints to maturity, (a view which does not see every member of the church as a “minister” with a “ministry”). We will tackle both of these controversies.
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