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Grace for Ministry

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
May 5, 2024 12:01 am

Grace for Ministry

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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May 5, 2024 12:01 am

The ministry of the church is not a task relegated only to its pastors. Every member of the body of Christ has been gifted for ministry. From his sermon series in the book of Ephesians, today R.C. Sproul reminds Christians that we've received gifts for the benefit of the whole church.

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R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) was known for his ability to winsomely and clearly communicate deep, practical truths from God's Word. He was founder of Ligonier Ministries, first minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel, first president of Reformation Bible College, and executive editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Nathan W. Bingham is vice president of ministry engagement for Ligonier Ministries, executive producer and host of Renewing Your Mind, host of the Ask Ligonier podcast, and a graduate of Presbyterian Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. Nathan joined Ligonier in 2012 and lives in Central Florida with his wife and four children.

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Now Christ ascends as the one who has crushed the head of the serpent and all of the minions of hell. And so Paul is speaking of this ultimate triumph of Christ our King, who in His ascension distributes according to His measure the tribute that He has received, the gifts that He has won. He now passes on to His people. When God saves us, why do we continue to live our lives on earth instead of immediately being taken to heaven? Well, according to Paul, in Ephesians 4-12, the saints, that's you and I, are to be about the work of ministry.

That looks different for each of us, but thankfully God graciously enables us for that calling. This is the Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind and each week we feature the preaching and teaching ministry of R.C. Sproul. I referenced Ephesians 4 and Dr. Sproul will be teaching from chapter 4 today and will conclude our time in Ephesians next Sunday. So don't forget, if you'd like to study this wonderful epistle of Paul line by line with Dr. Sproul, you can request his brand new expositional commentary on Ephesians when you give a gift of any amount at

And remember that this offer ends at midnight. You and I, if we're Christians, have been called to the work of ministry. But what is this grace that's been given to you to enable you in this calling? Notice Dr. Sproul in Ephesians chapter 4.

We're going to continue with our study of Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and we're in the fourth chapter, and I will be reading beginning at verse 7, and I'll read through verse 16, and I'd ask you to please stand for the reading of the Word of God. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore, he says, when He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men. Now this, He ascended. What does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

He who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the trickery of men in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head, Christ, from whom the whole body joined in it together by what every joint supplies according to the effect of working, by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. Again in this portion of the letter, the Apostle is continuing his explanation of the nature, the function, and the mission of the church as the body of Christ. We've just now heard the apostolic word. May we embrace it with the full authority that it carries.

Please be seated. Paul begins this session or this section of the epistle with these words, but to each one of us, grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. I'd like to take just a moment to explain a little bit about the very concept that's central to this portion of the text, namely the concept of grace.

The Greek word charos from which the English word charismatic comes is used here and translated by the English word grace, and it refers to a particular type of grace. Grace by definition is something that God bestows on people that can't possibly be earned or merited by anything that we do. In that regard, grace is similar to mercy and is distinguished from justice.

Justice is something we do earn. Justice is something we do deserve, and at the heart of the gospel, we are delivered from that which we deserve, namely the just judgment of God. So grace is often defined simply as unearned or unmerited favor. And characteristically, we distinguish among different kinds of divine grace. The most common distinction we hear is that distinction that we use between what we call special grace and then what we call common grace. Special grace usually refers in the first instance to saving grace. That is a grace or a mercy or a gift that God gives only to believers.

Saving grace is not poured out in the hearts and souls of unbelievers. In fact, it is saving grace that brings the believer to faith and to salvation. But apart from that special kind of saving grace, God also pours out grace and mercy and an abundance of gifts and blessings to all mankind. Our Lord teaches that the rain falls upon the just as well as on the unjust, that the fact that the unbeliever's field bears crops because of the rain that nurtures the seed is not something that is deserved by the pagan farmer, but is an experience of God's blessing that comes from grace. But common grace does not refer merely to those benefits and blessings that God gives to unbelievers but also the common gifts of grace that He bestows upon believers as well. As a Christian, I have been a recipient of God's saving grace, His special grace in that regard, but also the rain helps my grass to grow and the blessings that He pours out on all mankind also are enjoyed by believers. They're not just simply given to unbelievers.

This morning, I went to my doctor for a routine checkup, and while we were there, he got my file out and he looked at some past MRIs and CAT scans of my lungs and that sort of thing. And he showed me these pictures, and it was an astonishing thing to see how advanced modern medical technology is. And of course, I was receiving the benefit of that modern technology, and the pagan receives benefits from that as well. But that is another aspect or dimension of common grace. Now, some people deny common grace on the grounds that in the first place, for every blessing that the unbeliever receives in this world, though it is gracious at the outset, in the final analysis becomes a curse or it becomes a judgment, because every time we receive any gift from the hands of God for which we are not grateful, then that blessing ends in tragedy because our ingratitude for having received those benefits while we were on this earth, instead of leading us to appreciate and rejoice in thanksgiving to God, we become hardened in our hearts and in our ingratitude.

And so that is held against us in the final judgment. We can speculate in terms of the calculus of danger involved in such common benefits and blessings that God gives, because one of the most important elements of what we call common grace is God's restraint of sin. If God were not to restrain us from our sin, we would be acting in far more wicked ways than we characteristically do. One of the worst judgments that God can bestow upon somebody is to give them over to their sinful inclinations and remove the restraints. I think that's what happened to Pharaoh in the Old Testament. God didn't have to create any fresh evil in the heart of Pharaoh to make him worser and worser. All he had to do was to remove the restraints and let him have his head as it were. Now if on the one hand God gives me common grace such as sunshine and good health and all of that, and that redounds to my judgment because my ingratitude, I don't know what the proportionality is between that judgment and the lesser judgment that I would have received or I would receive because he's restrained me from evil.

Do you see what I'm saying? It could be that because of his common grace, my hell which has been increased by heaping up wrath for my ingratitude to his common benefits may still be not as bad as it would have been had he not restrained me from even more evil. But that's kind of asking like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, although we know the answer to that. If they're Presbyterians, quite a few.

If they're Baptists, none at all. Now there's still another kind of special grace in addition to saving grace, and this is the third type of grace I'm going to speak about tonight, and it's principally the subject of the main portion of the text that I've just read, and that's the grace that we can call the enabling grace of God, so that when God saves us with His saving grace with the initial work of regeneration by which we were brought to faith and to justification, not only does He save us, but then He adds to that saving grace further gifts that strengthen our Christian experience, our Christian walk, and enables us to be involved in carrying out the ministry that has been entrusted to the church. And that ministry is that which is entrusted not only to the pastors of the church or the shepherds of the flock, but to the whole flock. And it is this enabling grace that is in view here where Paul says to each one of us, not just to the pastors, not just to the apostles, not just to the New Testament prophets, but to every believer, to the rank and file Christian, this special grace is not merely offered, but it is given to us, and it is given according to a certain metric.

And that metric is the measure that is determined by Christ Himself. Here the apostle says, it is given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Now here he's speaking of gifts that are given to the church and to believers according to the measure of Christ. Elsewhere, when Paul talks about enabling gifts for ministry, he speaks of what he calls the gifts of the Spirit. And we think of the gifts that are given by God are given to us principally by the third person of the Trinity, God the Holy Spirit. But there's no conflict here because remember that Jesus told His disciples before His departure from this world that it was necessary for Him to go away in order that this second paraclete, the Holy Spirit, could be sent upon the church in order to empower the church to fulfill the Great Commission. So though the Spirit on the one hand is the immediate operator in bestowing the gifts, they are given under the direction of the second person of the Trinity, who according to His measure, as it were, sends the Spirit to gift us and to enable us for ministry. And even that is under the Father's directive ultimately, and so the gifting of every believer is a Trinitarian work of God. But now he speaks of it according to the measure of Christ's gift.

And therefore, he says, when He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men. Now at this point, the Apostle is quoting with a minor adjustment an important Old Testament text. He's quoting from Psalm 68, and for us to understand what his reference is, let's take a moment please to go back to the Psalm and to look at Psalm 68. I'm not going to read the whole Psalm because it's rather lengthy.

But beginning at verse 17 of Psalm 68, we read these words. And this, by the way, is a glorious passage in the Old Testament. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of thousands. Do you remember when Elisha was at Dothan and the enemies of Israel had set a trap to destroy him? And his servant looked out the window and he saw the enemy's chariots to the east and chariots to the west, chariots to the north, chariots to the south. And he said to Elisha, what are we going to do? And Elisha said, relax, relax.

Those that are with us are more than those who are against us. And the servant was a little bit, not only puzzled, but I think you can sense some annoyance there, saying to his master, I don't think you understand, just open your eyes, look out there and see how we're surrounded, nowhere to go. And then Elisha prayed, saying, Lord, open his eyes that he may see. And he saw myriads and myriads of chariots of angels round and about Elisha. Our eyes do not see the heavenly realm.

These things are ordinarily hidden from our view. But not only is God in His majesty occupying the heavenly places, but He has at His disposal what the Scriptures frequently refer to as the heavenly host. And when the Bible speaks of the heavenly host, it's not speaking about somebody who's the emcee at a party, but rather the heavenly host refers to a horde of military powers.

The heavenly hosts are the myriads of angels who accompany the judgment chariot of God. Remember again when Elijah was taken up into heaven and departed from Elisha, and Elisha said, my father, my father, behold the chariots of fire. And it is those chariots of fire that are in view here in this psalm.

The chariots of God are twenty thousand, thousands of thousands. The Lord is among them as its Sinai in the holy place. You have ascended on high, and you have led captivity captive and have received gifts from among men, even from the rebellious, that the Lord God might dwell there.

God be the Lord who daily loads us with benefits, the God of our salvation, the God of our salvation. Now here the psalmist is celebrating the vision of God ascending to Mount Sinai, to Jerusalem as the King of Israel in a posture of victory over the enemies of the people of God. And he's leading all of these captives that he has conquered in his warfare in behalf of his people. And so the ruling and reigning King of Israel, Mount earthly Zion, followed by all of these captives who have been defeated by His goodness. And in this image, he's receiving tribute from the captives.

That's the little change that Paul uses when he refers back to that. And when he speaks about Christ dispensing the measure of gifts, he says, when He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to men. Now characteristically in Old Testament days when the victorious king won his battle and led his captives, he would take tribute from his captives.

He would receive gifts from men, but then he would distribute those gifts as large as for his people. And so Paul just skips the point here of Christ receiving the gifts of those whom He has conquered and makes the analogy here with God's victory in the Old Testament, now Christ in His ascension. When He goes to heaven, He doesn't just ascend to Jerusalem, but He ascends to the right hand of God, and He ascends as the victor. He ascends as the one who has crushed the head of the serpent and all of the minions of hell. Those powers and principalities not only on earth but in heaven are part of the entourage that Christ leads as His captives.

He has defeated everyone on earth and all of the wicked forces in the high places as well. And so now Paul is speaking of this ultimate triumph of Christ our King, who in His ascension distributes according to His measure the tribute that He has received, the gifts that He has won, He now passes on to His people. Now Paul goes on to explain further this whole concept of the ascension of Christ. Now this, he says, He ascended.

What does it mean? But that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is also the one who ascended far above all the heavens that He might fill all things.

Now there is a question about this text. There's the contrast that Paul gives between the ascension of Jesus and His dissension. Now remember that when the New Testament speaks about Christ's ascending, it is not merely saying that He goes up to heaven. It's not just that He was elevated because it says in John, no one ascends to heaven except He who has descended from heaven.

Now we know that Enoch in the Old Testament was translated, I mentioned a few moments ago, the departure of Elijah who ascended into heaven, but in that sense they merely went up there. But when it refers in the New Testament to the ascension of Jesus, it is not simply referring to His going up to heaven, but rather to His going to a particular place in heaven for a particular reason. And namely, He is ascending to the right hand of God. He is ascending, He's going up not just to be in heaven, but to rule from heaven. He is ascending to sit at the right hand to receive the Father's authority as the King of Kings and of the Lord of Lords. He is ascending to His coronation and enthronement as our King. Elijah went up, but Elijah didn't get seated at the right hand of God. Enoch was not called the King of the Kings or the Lord of the Lords. The only one who receives that kind of enthronement in heaven is the one who first descended from heaven. We do serve the risen and ascended Lord, and don't we long for His return.

That was R.C. Sproul on this Sunday edition of Renewing Your Mind, teaching in Ephesians chapter 4, and he'll conclude this section and our time in this epistle next Sunday. Dr. Sproul taught on Ephesians at St. Andrew's Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and also for Ligonier Ministries, and it was this exposition and teaching that led to his brand new commentary on Ephesians. It's recently been released, and you can secure a hardcover edition for your library when you give a donation of any amount at

And if you have been building your R.C. Sproul commentary collection Sundays on Renewing Your Mind, this is one you won't want to miss. Request yours and help spread the trusted teaching of Renewing Your Mind and Ligonier Ministries when you give a donation of any amount today at Next time, R.C. Sproul will conclude this section and this series in Ephesians, so I look forward to you joining us next Sunday here on Renewing Your Mind. Thank you.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-05 02:34:27 / 2024-05-05 02:42:28 / 8

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