Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. God has a plan for every believer, a plan to serve others in the body of Christ, and He's given you a gift to do just that. We who run life's race all have a place in the Kingdom and the enablement to fulfill that calling. Today, lessons from Ephesians chapter 4 on the gift you have inside of you. From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, Paul wrote that to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. It seems no one is left out since that grace comes to each one of us.
Dave, because you raised this issue, I'm going to ask everyone who is listening to this broadcast today to answer a simple question. What is my contribution to the body of Jesus Christ? Some will answer, it is prayer. God knows we desperately need people to pray for the church, to pray for ministries. Others perhaps they are able to write cards of encouragement. And then there are those who minister publicly in all the different gifts that the Apostle Paul mentions.
But it is so critical that we all realize that we do fit within the body if we've accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. And I want to exalt every single believer today knowing that you have a role to play, and we thank God that together we are making a difference. We here at Running to Win are in a very crucial month because every gift that you give this month will be doubled up to $90,000. More than that, and you've heard me say this before, this month we end our fiscal year and we want to end strong as this ministry continues to expand. Now, I want to encourage you to listen because after this message I have a wonderful letter from someone from the land of Egypt.
Now let us listen. I've often thought, as perhaps you have also, that if the body of Christ on earth were as strong and healthy as the body of Christ in heaven, just think of what we could do in the world. But as all of us know, there's a gap really, is there not, between that which we experience sometimes as powerless Christians and a very powerful Christ? Well, I believe that it's God's will that we be healthy, that we be healthy as a congregation. And hopefully, though in this life never completely, but as healthy as Jesus is in heaven, the body of Christ there and the body of Christ here. You know, the book of Acts opens this way. The former writing I have written to you, O Theophilus, catch this, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach.
You see, that's, of course, a reference to the writing of Luke. Luke says, the first book that I wrote, which we call the book of Luke in the New Testament, that is the story of what Jesus began both to do and to teach. And now he says, I'm writing the book of Acts to tell you what he has continued to do on earth, because it is the body of Jesus Christ on earth that is to complete the work that was begun when Jesus was physically present. Take your bibles and turn to the fourth chapter, the book of Ephesians. Ephesians chapter four, because it is here that we'll gain some insight as to how we should function and what we should look like as a church if we're a healthy congregation. And in Ephesians four, we're going to talk about what is known as spiritual gifts. Now, there are some of you here who perhaps have never come to saving faith in Christ, and so you might be unclear as to what it is that we mean when we talk about such a thing as the gifting of the church.
But as we'll notice in the fourth chapter, we pick it up at verse seven, but to each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. When we ask the question of what a spiritual gift is, very simply, it is a God-given ability for service, a God-given ability for service. Sometimes it is referred to as a grace gift, because you'll notice it says here, to each one of us, grace has been given, charisma. That's what the word means, or charismatic, depending on which form of the word you're talking about.
Charis is actually the word grace. All of those words have the same idea, namely that God has given to us grace. God has graced us by giving us an ability with which we can serve in the church.
Couple of observations from the text. First of all, each of us has one. But to each one of us, grace has been given.
There's no such thing as God saving someone and then not having a place for him within the group that we call the body of Jesus Christ. All of the parts of your body are necessary. I know that it was often said that we could get along without an appendix. Well, some of you are getting along without an appendix, and it was said at one time that it has no special value. Well, I don't know about that. I've still got mine, thankfully.
Sorry about those of you who have no longer yours, but I have mine. But every part of the body has some function. Now, you say, well, what about those who perhaps are suffering from Alzheimer's disease and their ministry is over and we have to take care of them? Yes, they also have a part to play in the body, even though their part happens to be giving us the opportunity of caring for them and learning love and patience and all those other virtues. But every one in the body plays some part.
Now, take a good look at yourself. If you're a believer in Christ, you are important to the wholeness and the health of the body. Now, let's look at the text, and I'm going to help you here a little bit with the imagery. It says in verse 8, this is why it says, when he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men. In ancient times when a man would come back as conqueror, as the Roman conquerors frequently did, they would march into the city of Rome and behind them would be those who won the battle with them, all of their colleagues. And then behind those colleagues, there would be those who were the victims, the losers. They were the ones walking oftentimes in chains with their heads bowed because they knew that possibly death even awaited them.
And that's the imagery that is here. He says that when Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, first of all, he led into heaven a host of people, and I believe it's the Old Testament saints. Because it's interesting that in the Old Testament, when you died, you went to Sheol, and we learn in Luke chapter 16 that Sheol has two compartments.
There's a compartment for the righteous and a compartment for the not righteous, the unrighteous. Remember the story that Jesus told. And after the ascension of Christ, believers are always spoken of as being in heaven and us going directly to heaven. So you see, Jesus Christ ascending, he's taking the Old Testament saints with him.
He is also showing that he is the victor. Satan, of course, figuratively speaking, we may say, has to march behind, confessing defeat, because Jesus disarmed all principalities and powers and made a show of them openly triumphing over the minute. Christ was proven to be total victor over the forces of evil, and Jesus now has ascended into heaven.
But it was also customary for those people who won the war to give the gifts of spoil and to be generous in the disbursement of them. And so what he's saying is, when Jesus ascended into heaven, he poured forth the gift of the Holy Spirit. We know that the Spirit of God could not be coming upon the church until Christ ascended, and in so doing, he gave us gifts. Already then, Christ knew about us, and he knew where he wanted us to fit within the body.
That's what it says. When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and he gave gifts to men. And then there's an interlude in Paul's thought. What does he ascended mean, except that he also descended to the lower earthly regions. What he's saying is if Christ ascended, obviously it must mean that at some point he descended here to the earth, as we know he did at Bethlehem. He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe. It is Christ, therefore, who gave us our gift.
Now, notice, everyone has one. I pointed that out in verse seven, but all of the gifts are different. Notice the text. Verse 11, it was he who gave some to be apostles, that means sent ones, some to be prophets. Sometimes these prophets spoke forth the word of God, sometimes they prophesied, some to be evangelists.
There are those who are especially gifted in the reaching of lost men and women. All of us should evangelize, but there are those who are especially, what shall we say, talented when it comes to presenting the gospel to people. And then he gave to some pastors and teachers, and most people in the Greek text who study it say that it really refers to one person, pastors, teachers.
That is to say, those who are pastors who are teachers. Now, the apostle Paul here does not list all the gifts. If you look at other lists in the New Testament, you discover that maybe there were as many as 20 different gifts in the New Testament, and we haven't listed all of them. There's the gift of helps and the gift of mercy and the gift of faith and the gift of giving and the gift of administration.
And maybe Paul did not mean that it was an exhaustive list at any point. For example, it does not refer to a gift of music as such, even though we know that there are some people who are especially gifted in that area, and we think of one here on the platform, and he is especially anointed and gifted of God to be able to lead us musically. The apostle Paul is saying, these are the kinds of gifts that God has given to his people to build up the body of Jesus Christ. And comparison is sin.
Why? If you are not satisfied with your gift, you are not satisfied with your God. It says in 1 Corinthians that we have been given gifts according to God's good pleasure as God willed. And here in verse 7 it says, as Christ apportioned it. So you are gifted by God. And it's wrong to think that one person is more important than another, one may be more visible than another, but all of us working together as a body. Remember that story from Argentina about the man who volunteered in the army even though he did not have hands and he thought for sure he would be rejected, but they sent him to the top of a hill so that his eyes could guide someone who was blind who had the responsibility of carrying water.
Very same way, we operate as a unity, we are all part of it. What is a gift? A gift is a God-given ability to serve.
Everyone has one and everyone is very, very different. Now let's continue the text and ask this question. Now that we know what a gift is, what is its purpose? What did God have in mind? You'll notice it says, it was he who gave gifts, verse 12, to prepare God's people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.
That's what it was all about. Now, the equipping of believers, that's our responsibility as members of the pastoral staff. Because you see, the exercising of your gift very seldom will you learn how to do that simply by listening to messages. You learn how to do it by seeing it done and by training. Now let's suppose that I were a pilot and I could give you a lecture on how to fly.
This is purely supposition. Let's suppose that I had charts and diagrams and slides and videos of the cockpit and you had all of that information and you crammed it into your mind because you've been listening, listening, listening, listening year after year and now I say, well, I think you're ready to fly. Here's the plane. Go in and start it up and take your first flight. Do you guys think that it would be possible for you to convince your wives to come with you on that experience?
I doubt it. Because what you need is to sit beside the pilot and watch him. He needs to have confidence to let you do some things, increasingly more things until at last you're ready on your own. I can't stress too highly the fact that we do not learn to exercise our spiritual gift simply by coming to church, however important that is. It is learned usually by training. And that's why we have ministries here at the church such as Evangelism Explosion which is going to begin soon. It's an opportunity for you to learn exactly how to witness and to share your faith and once you've learned it, you can use it in so many different contexts but you have to learn how to share your faith. Many of you are intimidated when someone asks you a question about your relationship with Christ.
The way you overcome that is by training. Pastor Milko has what is known as networking. Networking are seminars and opportunities that are given from time to time where you learn what your spiritual gift is so you can say I know now how God wired me and where I fit. We have all of the branch ministries.
We have the opportunity of being involved in small groups and in all of these contexts the intention is that your gift be built up, strengthened, that you be trained and that you be used. You know, it used to be thought that the church is like a pyramid with a pastor on top. Someone said with a pastor perched precariously on the pinnacle.
I had to read that because I wasn't sure whether I could get through it. And then of course you have all these precious, polite parishioners listening to his sermons. This is not what the church is all about.
It's not a matter of those of us who are up on the platform doing the work. It is those of us who are on the platform teaching others to do the work, recognizing that the whole body is involved in the whole ministry. What is it that we're after?
Remember this. Remember the words of Luke, the former treatise I have high written unto you, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and to teach. It is to continue Christ's work. That's what it's about. Those of us who were in Berlin recently remember clearly in the Kaiser Wilhelm Church the statue without an arm.
And it was damaged during the war and it was left damaged. And it stands today in the window of the church as a reminder of the fact that Jesus Christ's hands are now our hands. We're to do what Jesus did in the world.
Now Jesus would not be in favor simply of coming together, listening to sermons, singing hymns, as if to say that that's all that the Christian life is involved about. You know, on Friday evening I went to prison. My wife told one of our daughters very casually, Dad is going to prison today. And that slowed her down a little bit until she realized that it was indeed for a visit. But what a great thing to see what God is doing there.
We were in maximum security. Paul Spinelli picked me up and took me there and to see his enthusiasm. Here's a ministry that kind of was just dumped on him. And he began to get involved and has gotten so excited about it, actually driven to other penitentiaries so that he might be able to meet people who are Christians, to encourage them in their faith, and to let them know that they matter to the kingdom of God. And the believers that we met there Friday night, they matter to the kingdom of God.
They are a part of us, separated from us, but nonetheless those who have come to saving faith, a part of who we are. I thought to myself, now that's the kind of thing that Jesus would really approve of, as something that represents Christ as we go into the world and recognize that we've been led by God to various ministries to bless the world, even as he blessed the world. So what is a spiritual gift? It's a God-given opportunity for service. Why is it given? Well, the text says it is given to build up the body of Jesus Christ, to strengthen it so that we might represent Christ well in the world.
Let me answer a third question. What does a healthy church look like? What does a church look like that exercises its gifts where there's spiritual growth and so forth? What I'd like to do is to go into a doctor's office for just a few moments, and I want to point out five characteristics of a healthy congregation. And rather than speaking of the congregation, I want you to apply it to yourself, even as I apply it to me.
Are you ready? Paul describes it here. Pastor Milko, whenever we are in a staff meeting or in an elders meeting, he's always saying, now what does that look like when we're talking about what Moody Church should look like in five years? He's always asking us to describe it.
Well, here's the description. Notice, first of all, verse 13, unity. We come to the unity of the faith. Now, there may be some who are listening here, and you're physically present, and I assume that that's the case because I see you out there. Some people say, well, I belong to the invisible church. Well, I know a pastor who said to someone who said I belong to the invisible church.
Well, good, here's some invisible money to support your ministry. No, we're talking about visible people here. But you might be physically present but not really unified. There may be grudges in your heart. There may be problems in your life.
You may be involved in something that alienates you from the body. Being unified doesn't simply mean that we come together and we sing the same hymns and we listen to the same scripture. What it means is that we pray together, we cry together, we rejoice together, we carry one another's burdens. That's what the unity of the faith is all about. And Paul says that the purpose of gifting is despite our diversity, that we be unified for the body of Jesus Christ. So the question is, are you unified?
Are you a part of what we are trying to do here in the city of Chicago? Secondly is maturity. Unity, maturity. Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and becoming mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Remember, it was Michelangelo who looked at a block of marble and said, I see an angel in there. And the angel, he says, is waiting to get out of the block of marble.
God looks at us and he sees this block. And what he does is he says, I see Christ in there. But in order to make us look like Christ, remember somebody asked a sculptor, how do you make an angel?
And he said, it's very easy. You just chisel away everything that isn't angel. And the way God does it is he chisels away everything that isn't Jesus. And during this past week, maybe you have felt the full force of his sharp chisel and you've not liked it. Remember, it is God's intention that we be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ.
That's maturity, maturity. And of course, we here at Running to Win are committed not only that people accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, but to help them and to encourage them all the way to maturity in Christ. Now, I have in my hands a very exciting letter. It blesses me.
You must remember that the ministry of Running to Win is heard throughout the Middle East. So this letter comes to us from Egypt. I want you to listen carefully. I've been searching to understand the Bible and Christian teaching. Since I found your program, I've been listening and taking notes for months, but I have so many questions about how I can go to heaven or how I can be saved from my sins.
The episodes talk about the wonderful things of Christianity, yet they all seem new and strange to me. Will you help me in my quest to get to know Jesus Christ and the Bible? I'm eager because it seems that Christ's life is the real solution to the world and especially to me. Thank you so much for your work and for your servant hearts.
My friend today, you should rejoice in letters like this because they are your letters. I want to thank the many of you who support this ministry, and you are a part of all that we do and the blessing that is spread around the world. This is a very special month.
It's a month in which your gift will be doubled and also, and I've mentioned this before, but the end of this month is the end of our fiscal year, and I hope that you consider helping us to end strong. Here is what you can do to get more info and to contribute. Go to rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Now, because this is such an important month and because we at Running to Win are committed to get the gospel and recently signed a contract to expand this ministry, thank you in advance for helping us, and I'll give you that contact info again.
Go to rtwoffer.com, that's rtwoffer.com, or call us at 1-888-218-9337. You can write to us at Running to Win, 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard, Chicago, Illinois 60614. Running to Win is all about helping you find God's roadmap for your race of life. Pastor Erwin Lutzer today brought part one of You and Your Gift. It's the twelfth message in a series on Between Heaven and Earth, taken from the book of Ephesians. Next time, more about developing the gifts we have been given. Running to Win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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