Ephesians Study, Part 29: Spiritual Gifts, Our Spiritual Assignment


Last week, Paul stressed that we should be living in unity:

...and since all of these are common to all believers, then all believers should be walking in unity.

Then we looked at the analogy of the human body as a symbol of the Christian body and the fact that there are many different members of the human body, but they are all required in order to have a fully functional body.  So when Paul uses the analogy of all believers as the body of Christ, I think he's depending on this teaching by Jesus that we are all necessary for the body to be fully functional.   Then we talked about why it's critical that every member of the body of Christ carry out the assignment that is given to each of us.

And we focused on the fact that as a Christian our hope is for the return of Jesus to take us back with him.  And we talked about the fact that many modern churches don't believe that he'll really return, so how valid is that hope for them?

As we wrapped up last week, we set the stage for what we're going to look at this week by looking at the concept of spiritual gifts and where those are listed in the New Testament.

This Week: The Spiritual Gifts:

Now just before Paul describes some of our gifts, our spiritual assignments, he goes back to an Old Testament quote and uses it to set the stage for the gifts of the Holy Spirit:

This is very strange quote. He is quoting from Psalm 68:18, and he is applying Jesus to this victory Psalm written by David. Led captive a host of captives.   That is a strange phrase.  It is not obvious what it might mean.   It is sort of a phrase of art of the Hebrew language and of the Jews, what you might call a "Hebrew-ism".   Its real meaning is to capture the person who captured you. So Paul is saying that Jesus overcame his captors, took captive his captors and he gave gifts to man.   We will deal with the gifts in a few minutes.

Back to the text of Ephesians:

There is a lot of confusion about this passage.   We have discussed this in the past, here in this class, and have talked about one of the interpretations which is somewhat radical.

There are a lot of teachings about Ephesians 4:9-10.   There are some who would teach that Jesus went down to Hades to get tortured more.   I do not think that makes sense or is supported by other Scripture.   I think that Jesus went to Hades to declare the victory that was his over death and Hades and to make that obvious to those that were lost.

In Luke Chapter 16 we have a story about Sheol or Hades, sometimes translated "hell".  But that's really a mistranslation.  Hades is the Greek and Sheol is the Hebrew for the abode of the dead.

The Greek word translated as "lower" in the lower parts of the earth in verse nine is katoteros which means "inferior" and is used to imply Hades.

In Luke 16, Hades is betrayed as having two sections, two regions, two areas, two parts.   In effect, those two parts are of those who are saved and those who are unsaved, with a great chasm between the two.   Let's take a look at that. By the way, don't presume that this is a parable.   In parables, characters do not have names.   Parables are little stories that are examples, not with named individuals.   So this is not a parable.   There really was a certain rich man.   There really was a certain poor man named Lazarus.   These are real people that Jesus is recounting a history of.   And of course the rich man was in great shape and Lazarus was in bad shape. "Abraham's Bosom" is a term which means the good part of Hades, the good part of the abode of the dead. This is really an interesting passage.   How interesting it is that in Jesus' ministry he did raise a man from the dead, another man whose name happens to be Lazarus.   And what was the people's response to Lazarus, after he was raised from the dead?   They plotted to kill him.   Remember we looked at that a few lessons ago.   They really didn't want him running around as evidence of the power of Jesus.   In John 12 they plotted to get him out of way. There is no reason or "tie" to support that the Lazarus of this story is the same Lazarus.  But the common name causes the question to pop up.

But again, from this story about the rich man and Lazarus, which I don't think is a parable, we have this strange description of the place of the dead.   From a number of biblical perceptions you can make a strong case that after his death on the cross, Jesus went to Hades to declare victory and to gather those that had accepted him and to take them with him.   And those that he gathered are with him now.   They don't have their resurrection bodies yet, that is yet to happen.

So that may very well be what Paul is referring to here in Ephesians.

Remember that in verse eight Paul, talking of Jesus, said: In verse 11 Paul completes that thought and lists some gifted jobs, some special assignments or roles for Christians to carry out: Although this is one of the lists in the New Testament which is often called a list of spiritual gifts, for me it is clearly not a list of spiritual gifts but of spiritual assignments in which the spiritual gifts would be put to use.   So when I start listing New Testament spiritual gifts, I do not believe that this list should be included.   Remember, though, that the listing of spiritual gifts, I believe, is not exhaustive, but rather examples of gifts of the Holy Spirit.

How many assignments does Paul list here?

Since there is no "some" before "teachers", some people find that there are four assignments, not five.   They feel that pastors and teachers are really one category.   Whether you consider this four or five spiritual assignments is really a matter of linguistics and probably is not very material.


Let's start with apostles.   Remember we have discussed apostles before and concluded that there are

In a broader sense all Christians have an apostolic mission.   Aren't you and I building on Paul's foundation by studying the book of Ephesians?   Isn't our job to be an ambassador for Jesus?   Are we to be his representatives?


The next group assigned are called "prophets".   A prophet, as the Bible uses the word, is not necessarily a term that includes someone being predictive.   The prophet was one that brought forth the word of God.   One who "forth told" the word of God, not foretold the word of God.   So it is a broader term than the way he we normally use it.   We generally think of a prophet as one who prophesies the future, which is being predictive.   But the purpose of the prophet was to expound, edify, encourage and console.


Now "evangelist" is pretty straightforward.   What the word really means is the bearer of good news, whose specific calling, in a biblical sense, is to spread the Word and to win the lost.   One could say that these are the obstetricians, where the pastors are the pediatricians.


Pastors are the shepherds.   They feed and they lead.


Some people, for linguistic reasons, link these with the pastors, assuming that this calling is a pastor/teacher.   But candidly if you look around you'll notice that there are many pastors who are outstanding shepherds, but who are not necessarily outstanding teachers.   There are others who are great teachers but who are not necessarily great shepherds.   So I lean to the concept that pastors and teachers are two different callings, two different assignments.

So I read this list of callings as five different callings instead of four.   The argument, as we said, hinges on the fact that the word "some" is not repeated for teachers.   In any case it is clear to me that some are called to be teachers, some are called the pastors, the shepherds of the flock, and some are called to be both.   Teachers are also listed separately in Romans 12:7:

It is also used separately in First Corinthians 12:28-29: So teachers are designated separately in other places in the New Testament, again supporting that it is a fifth calling, separate from pastors.


Next week:

...we will continue with verse 12 of chapter 4 and find out how Paul says we are to use these assignments, and he will continue by a telling us how to lead our lives worthy of the calling that Jesus has given us.