Play your Part

This week we got to hear Renee preach about spiritual gifts.  Her main point was that everyone has one and the body of Christ is dependent upon each other to experience those gifts.  Renee’s core text was out of 1st Timothy 4, specifically verse 14 – “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you.”  She did a wonderful job, as always.  Just like last week, this post only serves to expand on an idea present within the sermon, and hopefully encourage you toward some further study.


Crystal has agreed to let me use these wonderful works of art each week.  She’s great, and you should definitely check out her blog!


One of the remarkable things about this text is subtle, but important.  The word you is singular, not plural.  Generally, Paul uses plural language.  This is easily missed in English translations.[1]  Put simply, these gifts are given to individuals.  Now, one might argue that it’s singular because Paul is talking to Timothy.  Fair enough.  But that proves to us that the gifts in question are given to individuals, and that is significant.  Why?  Because the individuals are vitally important to the group.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that Timothy is in Ephesus and is therefore very likely familiar with the content of that epistle.  So it’s to Ephesians we now turn.

7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.   8Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.” 9(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?   10He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)   11And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,   12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
Ephesians 4:7-12   ESV

The quotation in verse 8 is from Psalm 68:18 –

You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
Psalms 68:18   ESV
 Notice, there’s a difference.[2]  In Psalms, Jesus ascends and receives gifts from men (notice that it specifically mentions that he receives even from among the rebellious).  But in Ephesians Jesus ascends, and gives gifts to men.  So what changes?  Well, time.  Psalms is Jesus’ ascent to the father.  What does he bring when he ascends?  Redemption for rebellious humanity.  Once Jesus ascends, what does he have to offer the world?  Redeemed humanity.
This is crucial for us to understand. What is the gift given to the world in Ephesians? It’s us. You and I are individual components of that collective gift. Jesus takes rebellious humanity, redeems them, and then sends them to rebellious humanity as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. You’re one of those, or maybe a mixture of two. So in a very real sense, you are God’s gift to humanity.
…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
See, it’s cyclical. God redeems rebellious humanity, and sends them back to their former home to draw more rebellious humans to himself. That builds up the body of Christ. But there’s something even more important there. The explicit purpose of this gift is to equip the saints. This is an interesting word. It’s καταρτισμός, which is a medical term in the ancient world for setting a broken bone. Ephesus was actually famous in the ancient world for a hospital, so this term would have been immediately understood. Paul is saying that these gifts are given so that the broken elements of the body could be repaired, and that repair would enable the body of Christ to grow.
You are that gift, and so is every other Christian you’ve ever known. We were each given our gifts, and then given as gifts to the body so we could fix one another. That means that what is broken in me needs the gift in you in order to be fixed. This is why you shouldn’t neglect the gift that is in you, because we all need that gift. The church needs your gift to be whole. The church needs all of us to play our parts, for the good of the body, for the hope of the world.

[1] You don’t have to learn Hebrew or Greek to appreciate this subtle distinction.  There are plenty of websites you can use when reading scripture that will help you see plural language.  One of the better options is Bible Web App.  If you go into the settings, you can actually select how you would like you-plural to be translated.  Some of these options are pretty hilarious.  There’s nothing like reading the King James with y’all peppered in there for some southern flavor.

[2] I always tell my students that the best way to understand the New Testament is to read the Old Testament.  This is a great example of that.  If this is something that interests you (and it should), I highly recommend the work of Greg Beale.  He’s written a great commentary on Revelation, and a shorter more accessible version.  He’s also edited the incredibly helpful Commentary on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament.  As I pointed out in a previous post, there are free lectures on  Dr. Beale has one on Biblical Theology that is immensely helpful (even though I part ways with him on a handful of things).

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