The Relational Link to Spiritual Growth Part 4
In order to get caught up on the subject, I encourage you to go back and read the previous 3 posts. We’re talking about the relational link to spiritual growth. I’ve given one primary truth to lead us through this discussion. Our main text is Ephesians 4:7-16. You may want to reread the text in order to reacquaint yourself with the conversation. Here we go.
Big Truth: God has positioned you and gifted you for growth. When growth stops, you have either rejected the position and/or abandoned the gifts.
Three gifts are specifically mentioned in the text: immeasurable grace, spiritual gifts, and equippers in the faith. Let’s talk about the first two and see how they are relationally activated.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Let’s stop and ask several questions. What is Christ’s gift? Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Christ’s gift is eternal life. What is eternal life? Jesus defined it in John 17:3. “This is eternal life, that they may know you.” Eternal life is to know God; it is to be in relationship with God. Put that into the passage.
Paul says, “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Can any of us accurately measure Christ’s gift? Can you put a price tag on a relationship with God? Can you really describe what it means to be forgiven of your sins (past, present, and future), and be given the opportunity for a fresh start? Can we put into words a love so profound that God was willing to die for you and me? Of course not! God’s grace is without measure, and that same grace has been given to us in God’s family.
How does God’s grace connect with our being a part of His family? The grace in which we stand (Rom. 5:2) not only saves us, but enables us to serve (Eph. 6:10; Phil. 4:13; 1 Tim. 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:17). The term refers to that which works in and shows itself through the life of a believer. Said in a different way, “This grace makes spiritual gifts function to the glory of God.”
Without God’s grace, spiritual gifts can be divisive and dangerous. Just go back and read the story of 1 Corinthians.
Gifts without grace can be harsh, abrasive, and presumptuous. Grace without gifts leaves the church ill equipped to minister to each other and the world. God addressed both needs.
He provided grace so the family can function in harmony one with another; He provided gifts so that the body can live and grow through the lives of ordinary people.
Immeasurable grace is the first gift that Paul mentions for those in the family of God. The second gift is…
“Therefore it says, ‘When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to men. Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.”
The explanation for these verses comes in three parts: there is a theological component, a historical component, and a practical component.
Here’s the theological portion. At Jesus birth, He descended from Heaven’s heights to Bethlehem’s barn. At his death, He descended from the cross of Calvary into the place known as Hades. There He preached to ‘the spirits in prison’ (1 Pet. 3:18-20). Three days later, at His resurrection, He ascended back to heaven (leading captivity captive). After 40 days of personal interaction with people, in Acts 1, He ascended back to heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father.
When verses 8-10 talk about ascending and descending—those are the major thoughts in view.
A lot of people are unsure of what Christ did for the three days in the tomb. Was He dormant? Did He enter soul sleep? Did He go to hell to pay the sin debt? The Bible gives a clear answer.
The Old Testament refers to the place of the departed dead as Sheol (Deut. 32:22; Job 26:6; Ps. 16:10; etc.). Part of Sheol was a place of torment, occupied by the unrighteous dead and a specific group of demons who had been confined there (Gen. 6:2-5; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). The other part of Sheol was a place of comfort and blessing, occupied by the righteous dead (or those who placed their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). According to Jewish belief, the good part of Sheol was called “Abraham’s Bosom” (Lk. 16:22-23) or “Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). The bad part was called the “Place of Torment” or “Hell” (Lk. 16).
Early church teaching said that the righteous dead of the Old Testament could not be taken into the fullness of God’s presence until Christ purchased their redemption on the cross. Therefore, they waited in paradise for His victory on that day. The unrighteous dead were in hell awaiting the final judgment of God.
When Christ died on the cross, Scripture tells us that He descended to Hades (to the place of the dead) and “made proclamation to the spirits now in prison (1 Peter. 3:19). This idea is further strengthened by Jesus’ comment to the thief on the cross. When the thief repented, Jesus did not say, “This day, you will be with me in heaven.” Instead, he said, “This day, you will be with me in paradise.” Paradise is a part of Hades. Then we have the phrase of verse 8: “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives.”
Who were the captives? They were the Old Testament saints waiting for ultimate redemption through the cross.
When Jesus descended to Hades, He proclaimed his victory over Satan, sin, and death. When He ascended, He emptied paradise by taking them to heaven. “He led captive a host of captives.” Now, we can definitively say that for the Christian, “To be absent from the body, is to be present with the Lord.” If you are a Christian, you no longer go to a holding tank so to speak. The price of redemption has been paid in full, and upon death we are immediately transported into the presence of God.
That is the theological component. Here is the historical portion. Verse 8 is a quote from Psalm 68.
Psalm 68 is a victory hymn composed by David to celebrate God’s conquest of the Jebusite city and the triumphant ascent of God up Mount Zion (cf. 2 Sam. 6-7; 1 Chron. 13). In that culture, after a king won a major victory he would bring home the spoils of war and the enemy prisoners. He would parade both before his people. Another part of the victory parade, would be the display of the king’s own soldiers who had been freed after being held prisoner by the enemy. These were often referred to as “recaptured captives.” They were prisoners who had been taken prisoner again, so to speak, by their own king and given freedom. Can you see the spiritual parallel that Paul has drawn?
Over 2000 years ago, God descended from heaven in the person of Jesus Christ. The reason He came was His people had been taken prisoner by the enemy. Jesus said, “The enemy comes to steel, to kill, and to destroy, but I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” In Matthew 9, Jesus looked at the crowds and, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” The heart of God ached for His creation. Those who were created for the purpose of relationship with God, had been separated by the curse of sin.
Through Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death, and bodily resurrection—He defeated Satan, sin, and death. He descends even further to proclaim His victory to those held captive in Hades. On the third day, He ascends leading the “recaptured captives” to heaven as trophies of grace, and He giving gifts the church as a sign of His victory.
We can now appreciate more of the fullness of verses 8-10. “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, and He gave gifts to me. Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.”
Paul’s point in Ephesians 4:8-10 is pretty simple. Through victory, Jesus gained the right to rule His church and to give gifts to His church, that He might fill all things.
There is also a practical side to this section. I’ve shared it with you on each of the previous posts. God has positioned you and gifted you for growth. When growth stops, you have either rejected the position and/or abandoned the gifts.
As a Christian, part of your growth in Christ is connected to your gifts in the body. Jesus positioned you in victory, and He gifted you through victory. As we understand the gifts, and utilize the gifts (through the immeasurable grace provided by God), the Holy Spirit continues the process of spiritual growth.
What is our part? Are we abiding in the place God put us (position), and are we embracing the benefits God gave us (gifts).
Are you going through a spiritually dry season? Are you trying to climb out of a spiritual funk? Are you reading your Bible and praying and spending time with God, but something is still missing?
Go back to your position and embrace the gifts. Paul said, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). You’ll never find life in the old self. Your new life, your real life, is hidden with Christ in God. Is it any wonder that Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you, as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”
On the next post, we will see how He has also surrounded us with equippers in the faith.