God has called you to serve me, and me to serve you, by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). This mutual ministry is what drives me to write truth, and to read and listen to truth from friends.
But “speaking the truth in love” is not so simple as hitting a few keys on my laptop. It requires a cosmic backstory to pull off.
The Apostle Paul breaks the story into three movements in Ephesians 4.
Movement 1: The Gifter Ascends (Ephesians 4:7–10)
The backstory to spiritual gifts begins with the ascension of Christ. You know, that rather bizarre story we tend to think of in terms of a Monty Python sketch with Jesus slowly rising up into the clouds, holding a steady beauty pageant wave to the disciples, in one long, awkward, slowmo goodbye.
But in truth, the ascension marks off his supremacy as a capstone over Christ’s victory over sin.
First, Christ had to “descend into the lower regions” (the incarnation), and then he “ascended on high” (the ascension). And if we follow the life of Christ over all his work — his virgin birth, his perfect life of law keeping, his victory over evil at the cross, and his victory over death at the resurrection — Christ then ascends into the sky as a conquering King, enthroned at the right hand of God (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 1:13, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2).
Christ is now, and forevermore, King over this universe. It’s all his. He made it. He reclaimed it. The stage is set for his return. In his ascension, Christ “has been given the divine right, the divine appointment, the royal power and prerogatives to carry out the work of re-creation in full, to conquer all his enemies, to save all those who have been given him” (Bavinck). All of this will be finished in the future.
So why is this not an odd way to begin a conversation on spiritual gifts?
Movement 2: The Gifted Are Deployed (Ephesians 4:11–14)
As the ascended Christ claims authority over the cosmos, he leverages all his power and authority for the sake of the Church and the spread of his word.
In the ascension, the visible “going up” of Jesus displays Christ’s cosmic reign over the universe, and it simultaneously unleashes spiritual gifts for the Church: all the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. Some of these gifts were temporary, most were permanent, and all of them are essential for the Church to grow in its submission to the word of Christ in order to reflect Christ.
Thus, the reign of Christ gets displayed wherever his creatures submit to his word. Falsehood is the opposite. Falsehood is rebellion (that’s why there’s such a keen emphasis in Ephesians 4 on truth). Lies reject Christ’s authority. Truth, submitted to, displays the beauty of Christ’s kingship to the world.
So get this: The cosmos is under the lordship of Christ positionally. But the Church is living out the lordship of Jesus Christ actually. Which means, the cosmic reign of Christ (his filling all things), which will be fully realized when Christ returns, is being demonstrated right now, on earth, in the Church.
For example, different ethnicities are being drawn together in unity in Christ. The relational fractures of this earth are being mended. In this display of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood, the Church is where you see a little picture of the cosmos being stitched back together — if you have eyes to see.
Thus, the working of spiritual gifts offers us actual evidence of Christ’s reign in this universe. Wherever Christ’s word is embraced, Christ’s reign is manifested to the world — a microcosm of what God intends to do with the entire cosmos. The implications here are profound.
Movement 3: The Ministry of Truth-in-Love Is Given To Us All (Ephesians 4:15–16)
Finally, Paul pulls every Christian into movement and boils the aim down to five words: “speaking the truth in love.” If you want a brief summary of ministry — why you need a church, why you need a pastor, why you need discipleship, why you need to participate in discipling others, and even why this blog exists — it’s these five words. We are called to “speak the truth in love.” This is word ministry boiled down to its simplest form.
Which means . . .
First, God has ordained for our submission to Christ to come about through the help of others. We each have blind spots, we get duped by lies, our perceptions go wrong, and we need friends to help us live out our submission to Christ. Assumed in all of Ephesians 4, is that if I am to live consistent with Christ’s lordship in my life, I need you to show me where I have embraced falsehood, and I must humbly consider what you offer. There’s a very personal and organic makeup of word ministry.
Second, in all these things, God has ordained that our ministry to one another be truth-telling done in love.
As Tim Keller said in a sermon: “Truth without love is imperious self-righteousness. Love without truth is cowardly self-indulgence.” Both are selfish.
Or as John Newton once said of reproof: our natural temptation is to say what we should not say, or to not say what we should say. One is cruel arrogance, the other cruel cowardice, and neither is love.
Rather, we seek to speak the truth of Jesus Christ in love to one another. Such a work — such a balance — requires nothing less than the power and wisdom of ascended King Jesus.
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