Spiritual Gifts 101

Ephesians 4

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
March 2019

We are studying the Book of Ephesians.  Last week, we looked at the topic of unity in the church, which is very much needed today because the modern church is divided.  We began the second section of the Book of Ephesians which is not primarily doctrinal but practical.  We looked at doctrinal unity (unity of truth). We looked at personal unity (unity of persons).  We looked at the main command in those verses to make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

To do that, we have to do two things.  We have to change the way we act towards people.  We have to be humble.  We have to be gentle.  We have to patient.  We have to treat people with love and compassion (Ephesians 4:1-3).  We also have to focus on the things we have in common (Ephesians 4:4-6).  We like to focus on all of our differences, all of our denominational distinctives that make our church different from other churches and what makes us unique as a church.

For the next two weeks, we will be looking at the topic of topic of spiritual gifts.  Ephesians 4 is one of the main passages in the NT on spiritual gifts.  It is a little different from some of the other passages in the NT on spiritual gifts.   It does not mention many of the charismatic sign gifts (like speaking in tongues, and healing).  We will look at some of the differences next week. This is a very important topic for all of us and it is practical.

It is also a difficult passage.  It is one of the hardest passages in the Book of Ephesians.  There are all kinds of different interpretations on some of these verses.  What does it mean that Jesus led captivity captive? What does it mean that Jesus descended to the lower parts of the earth?  What does that mean?  Does it mean that Jesus went to Hell?  Does this mean that Hell is in the center of the earth?

I have read that passage for over forty years.  I have had questions about it but never really studied it in depth until now.  Some say that there is one verse in this section that proves that there is an error in the Bible.  Are they right?  We will look at the verse.  This week, you might hear some things that you have never heard before.  We are going to look at five truths today about spiritual gifts.  We will see a few more next week. As we look at them, we will look at some of these questions in the text

Five Basic Truths about Spiritual Gifts

1) Jesus is the one who gives us our gifts

He is the gift-giver.  If you read some other passages in the NT, you would think that they were just given by the Holy Spirit. In I Corinthians, they are called gifts of the Spirit. He calls them “the manifestations of the Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:7).  He says that the Holy Spirit distributes them (I Corinthians 12:4).  Every gift in that chapter is given “by the Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:9-10) or ‘through the Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:8).

Here we learn that gifts are not just given by the Spirit; they are given by Jesus Himself.  Every spiritual gift you have was personally distributed by Jesus.  Jesus does not just give us salvation, He gives us gifts.  We like to give gifts to our kids.  Jesus liked to give gifts.  He was the one who said that it is better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35).

Where does it say that our gifts come from Jesus?  Ephesians 4:7 says “to each one of us grace has been GIVEN AS CHRIST APPORTIONED IT” (NIV). Ephesians 4:8 says, “When HE ascended on high, HE took many captives and GAVE GIFTS to HIS people” (NIV). Ephesians 4:11 says “So CHRIST HIMSELF GAVE the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” (NIV). Everything we have comes from Jesus. Our ministries come from Jesus.  Paul says this, not one or two but three times.

Paul quotes a verse from the OT to prove that Jesus gives us the gifts.  This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people” (Ephesians 4:8 NIV) but there is a problem.  The quotation comes from Psalm 68:18 but that is not what the text says.  Psalm 68:18 says, “When you ascended on high, you took many captives; you received gifts from people, even from the rebellious– that you, LORD God, might dwell there.” (NIV).

Critics call this a contradiction.  Is this an error in the Bible?  Is Paul misquoting Psalm 68 here?  Psalm 68 talks about God RECEIVING gifts FROM people (so HT and LXX).  Ephesians 4 talks about Jesus GIVING gifts TO people, not receiving gifts from people.  Is it a problem?  Not really.  Paul may not have been quoting Psalm 68 but the Jewish Targum, which was an Aramaic paraphrase of the OT.  Paul was trained under Rabbi Gamaliel.  The Jewish Targum mentions him giving gifts to the sons of men.  There is a Jewish basis for the translation.[1]

If it is a direct quote from Psalm 68, it is a contradiction.  If it is a quote from the Jewish Targum, which is a paraphrase of the passage, it is not a contradiction, just a summary.

The background of Psalm 68 is of a king who does BOTH.  It is the picture of a victorious king coming back after winning a war.  Behind him are all of his soldiers and he brings back with him the spoils of war.  He returns home with the spoils of war and gives the spoils to his own.  That is what ancient conquerors did.

They received gifts AND gave gifts.  In this case, the conqueror is Jesus.  He wins the battle.  He defeats the enemy and He gives gifts.  The only difference is that in this case, He did not get the gifts from the enemy, so Paul does not emphasize that part.  What he says is implied by the text (so Archer).[2]

2) Jesus gives spiritual gifts sovereignly

Our natural abilities are sovereignly given.  We are born with them.  Our spiritual gifts are also sovereignly given.  We cannot take the credit for them.  We had nothing to do with them.  He decided what gift we would have.  We may wish we had some different gifts, but God decides what gift each Christian has.

All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines (I Corinthians 12:11 NIV).  Notice that they are NOT distributed as we determine but as He determines.

But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. (I Corinthians 12:18 NIV).  That is talking about the part of the physical body but it is also true of the body of Christ.

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (I Corinthians 12:27-28 NIV).

That raises this question.  if gifts are sovereignly given is it wrong to pray for spiritual gifts?  No.  There is biblical support for this in I Corinthians 14:13.  On the other hand, before we pray for another gift, we should first use the gift that God has already given us but it is certainly not wrong to pray for more.

3) Jesus gives spiritual gifts after the ascension

Ephesians 4:8 says, “WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (NIV).  That is when He gave the gifts.  They are all ascension gifts from the exalted Christ.  Some have called these gifts listed in Ephesians 4 (apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers) as the ascension gifts.  They say that these five leadership offices, these five ministries, are ascension gifts but the truth is that all spiritual gifts are ascension gifts.

Paul says that when Jesus ascended, he did two things.  He gave gifts and he took captives.  For it says: When He ascended on high, He took prisoners into captivity (HCSB).  The NIV says, “When he ascended on high, he took many captives.”  The question is, Who are the captives?  Some think it refers to evil powers and forces agree with D.A. Carson that this is talking about believers.[3]  Jesus by his death and resurrection, did two things:  He acquired people and gave them gifts.

Paul says that in the next verse.  He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things (Ephesians 4:9-10 KJV).  The one who ascended and descended is the one who has the right to give the gifts.

False Views of the Underworld

This is where it gets interesting.  What is Paul talking about?  Where did Jesus go when he died?  Where was His spirit when His body was in the ground?  Did Jesus go to Hell between his death and his resurrection?

Some say that He went to Hell and was there for three days.  It is called the weekend in Hell doctrine.  Some preachers teach that. Some teach that he not only went to Hell; he suffered in hell.[4]  Furthermore, they go on to say that Hell is in the earth.  It is in the center of the earth, the lower parts of the earth. None is this is correct.  It is all hogwash.  What are the five false views of the underworld?

1. Jesus suffered in Hell after He died

He said. “It is finished” (τετέλεσται) on the cross before he died.  The penalty as payed.  He did not have to go to Hell to suffer more for three days.  He told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).  He did not go to Hades.  He went to Paradise.  He didn’t go there in three days.  He went that day.

2. Jesus’ victory over the underworld took place after His death

“The place where Jesus had victory over evil powers and sin…was not in Hades but on the cross.”[5]  Christ defeated these powers at his ascension, not during a descent into Hell, between his death and resurrection.”[6]  Satan was judged at the cross (John 16:11).  That was when  “having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15 NIV).

3. Jesus did not descend into Hades to free slaves

When I was first saved, I was told Ephesians 4 is talking about OT saints.  Between his death and his resurrection, he went to Hades and took millions of OT saints into heaven but OT saints would not be described as captives.  Paul does not say that Jesus led captivity captive during his descension but during his ascension.  Paul could have said that after his death, he descended in to Hades and freed all of the slaves.  That is not what the passage says.

4. Hell is at the center of the earth

Many people teach this.  They get it from two verses: Ephesians 4:9 and Matthew 12:40. There are two ways to translate Ephesian 4:9.  It could be translated as a PARTITIVE GENITIVE.  The KJV reads, “he descended to the lower parts of the earth.”  That is a possible interpretation.  It was the view of many early church fathers but few commentators take it that way today.

Most commentators today take it as a GENITIVE OF APPOSITION.  It further defines or explains the preceding noun. The NIV says “he also descended to the lower, earthly regions” (NIV).  The ESV says “he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth.”  They take it as a genitive of apposition.  There are many examples of this in the book (Ephesians 2:2, 14, 15, 20; 3:4, 7; 4:3; 6:14, 16, 17).[7]

Ephesians 4 does NOT say that Jesus descended to hell.  He descended from heaven to earth, not from earth to hell.  Ephesians mentions two places (heaven and earth), not three (heaven, earth, hades).[8]  In fact, Paul never mentions Hades anywhere in his epistles.

What about Matthew 12:40?  For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (NIV).  Some say that this proves that hell is in the center of the earth and not just six feet under.

The problem is that this is figurative language.  The earth does not have a heart.  It is not talking about where the soul of Jesus went but where His body went.  This was the sign to the Jews (the sign of Jonah).  Jesus was predicting his death in advance.  He does it many times and he never speaks about where His soul goes.  He always talks about where His body goes (cf. Matthew 16:21; Luke 9:22; 17:25; 18:32-33).

4) Jesus gives spiritual gifts to every believer

Every believer has a spiritual gift But to each one of us grace has been given (Ephesians 4:7 NIV).  He does not say that it is given to some of us or to many of us or even to most of us but to EACH ONE of us.  Every Christian has at least one spiritual gift, not just the superstar, celebrity Christians.

The most humble, poor, uneducated and insignificant believer in the darkest corner of the globe has a spiritual gift.  There is no such thing as an ungifted member.  If we all have a spiritual gift, that means that we all have a God-given ministry of some kind.  in the American church today, it seems like there are only three or four people in the church who have the gifts.

Now to EACH ONE the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. (I Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV)

We all have a gift.  We all have a ministry.  If that is true, we should ask two simple questions.  Do we all know what out spiritual gift or gifts are?  Are we using them?  Gifts are meant to be used.  No gift should go unused.  That would be a complete waste.  I Peter 4:10 says, “Each of you should USE whatever gift you have received TO SERVE OTHERS as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (NIV).  If you have a spiritual gift, that means that someone in your church needs that gift.

5) Jesus gives believers different spiritual gifts

Some today teach that we should all have the same gift.  They teach that we should all heal the sick or speak in tongues but the NT teaches that we all have different gifts. That is why we need each other. We all have different gifts.  Even two Christians who have the same gift have different degrees of that gift.  Spiritual gifts are given in varying measure.  They are given in different amounts.  Jesus decides WHAT gift we gift.  He also decides HOW MUCH of each gift we would get (one talent, five talents or ten talents).

“Having then gifts differing ACCORDING TO THE GRACE GIVEN TO EACH OF US, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” (Romans 12:6 NIV).  This is an interesting concept.

Ephesians 2:8 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (NIV).  We are saved by GRACE.  We are given spiritual gifts by GRACE. We do not only need grace for salvation; we need grace for service, and grace for ministry.  Spiritual gifts are grace-enabled abilities.

Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you… I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ (Ephesians 4:2, 7-8 NIV)

Paul was given grace to do ministry. We are given grace to do ministry.  We all have different spiritual gifts and the different spiritual gifts are based on the grace that is given to each one of us.  Grace is the power to exercise that gift. Grace is the power to do what God has called you to do.

We saw this last Sunday.  What God appoints, he anoints.  If God calls us to do something, He gives us the power and the grace to do it.  We do not have to do it in our own strength.  God called Moses to lead two million Jews out of slavery in Egypt and he called him to do it without an army but He also told them that he would be with them.

[1]The chariots of God are two myriads of burning fire, two thousand angels guiding them; the presence of the Lord rests on them, on the mountain of Sinai, in holiness.
You ascended to the firmament, O prophet Moses; you captured captives, you taught the words of Torah, you GAVE GIFTS to the sons of men, and even the stubborn who are converted turn in repentance, [and] the glorious presence of the Lord God abides upon them. Blessed be the Lord, every day he weighs us down, adding commandments to commandments; the mighty one, who is our redemption and our helper forever
(Targum of Psalm 68:18-20).

[2] Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, 1982), pp. 404-405; Gleason L. Archer & Gregory Chirichigno, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament (Chicago, 1983), p. 73.

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w38TpFhk_FU

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dwbNvBq7eQ

[5] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 534

[6] Frank Thielman, Ephesians, 270.

[6] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary, 535

[8] Frank Thielman, Ephesians, 270.

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