The Ascension Gifts of Christ


The Ascension Gifts of Christ

February 7th, 1971 @ 8:15 AM

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
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Dr. W.A. Criswell

Ephesians 4: 7-12

2-7-71     8:15 a.m.


On the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.  The title of the sermon is the grace gifts of our Lord for His church: The Ascension Gifts of Our Lord.  It is an exposition and in some instances an exegesis of this passage in the fourth chapter of the Book of Ephesians.  We have been preaching through the Book of Ephesians, and I begin at verse 7, “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.  Wherefore He saith” [Ephesians 4:7], and he quotes the sixty-eighth Psalm, “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive” [Psalms 68:18; Ephesians 4:8], and that was our sermon last Sunday morning, Leading Captivity Captive.  When the Lord entered back into glory, when He ascended upon high, He led captivity captive [Ephesians 4:8].  And now this morning, what He did when ascended up on high, when He returned back to glory and gave gifts unto men [Ephesians 4:8]:

And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers:

For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

[Ephesians 4:11-13]

Now that is the passage and I take the part of it, the ascension gift; when the Lord returned to glory, He said, “I will pour out upon you the Promise of the Father” [Luke 24:49].  And what that meant, the New Testament reveals, when the Lord gave gifts unto men, sometimes those gifts are called spiritual gifts.  In the twelfth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, verse 1, Paul calls them ta pneumatika, “the spirituals,” spiritual gifts [1 Corinthians 12:1]. 

Then, reading down in the fourth verse of that same chapter, he gives them another name: he calls them ta charismata, “grace gifts,” charismatic gifts—charisma, charismata, plural—charismatic gifts [1 Corinthians 12:4].  Then here in this passage he uses another word: he calls them dōron, the Greek word for present, “gift”; ascension gifts.  “When He ascended up on high…He gave gifts unto men” [Ephesians 4:8].  The figure, of course, is having won a great victory—in this instance on His cross and in His resurrection [Matthew 27:32-28:7]—He battled, He confronted sin, and Satan, and death, and the grave, and the flesh, and the world, and the demonic kingdoms of darkness, and He triumphed over all of them [Ephesians 4:9-10]. They’re vanquished; our every foe is defeated and the Lord ascended up on high, victorious [Ephesians 4:8].  And as the victor, using the figure of a general in triumph, He distributed presents, dōron here; dōra, presents.  He distributed gifts to men [Ephesians 4:8]Ta charismata in the Corinthian letter, ta pneumatika in the Corinthian letter; what the Lord poured out upon His church when He went back up to heaven [Luke 24:49; Ephesians 4:8; 1 Corinthians 12:7]. 

Now usually those gifts are delineated as by the Holy Spirit.  When the Lord poured out the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Promise of the Father [Luke 24:49; Acts 2:33], usually those gifts are described as being presented to us by the Holy Spirit—the “charismatic gifts,” bestowed by the Spirit—the pneumatika gifts, the spiritual gifts bestowed by the Holy Spirit [1 Corinthians 12:8-11].  But here, Paul does another thing: he presents it as from Christ Himself.  It is the Lord bestowing upon His church these marvelous gifts [Ephesians 4:8].

Now, one other difference in the passage: when we read about the pneumatika and the charismata—the spiritual gifts and the charismatic gifts, the grace gifts—when we read about them in the New Testament, they are without exception endowments, such as the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of discernment [1 Corinthians 12:8-10].  They are characteristics of people who receive them.  They are endowments, they are gifts.  But here, in an unusual way, Paul writes of the gift as not an endowment, but he writes of the gifts as being the people themselves [Ephesians 4:11-12].  God gave, the Lord gave to His church these marvelous people.  These grace gifts, here in this passage I’m expounding, are people; not endowments, but people, and he names them.  And He gave to His church these grace gifts, the people themselves: apostles, and prophets, and evangelists, and pastors, and teachers [Ephesians 4:11].  The glorious riches of the church is found in these grace gifts that the Lord, after He returned to heaven [Acts 1:9-10], continually pours out upon His church [Ephesians 4:11].

And those grace gifts are the people, and he names them.  Well, let’s name them briefly: some apostles [Ephesians 4:11], apostolos, apostellō—it’s a common Greek word—apostellō, “to send forth”; apostolos, “someone who is sent forth.”  Now it is used in the New Testament in two senses.  In a technical sense, the word “apostle” refers to the twelve and just to the twelve.  They are the apostles of the Lord; in that office, technically, there are only twelve.  For example, the Lord says that at the consummation of the age, the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones; not thirteen or eleven-and-a-half, but twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel [Matthew 19:28].  And in the twenty-first chapter of the Revelation, there are twelve foundations for the city of God, the New Jerusalem, and they are the twelve apostles of the Lord [Revelation 21:14].  There the word apostolos refers to the office.  You know, sometimes I think the apostles in the first chapter of Acts chose Matthias to be the one to take Judas’ place [Acts 1:22-26], but in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts, God chose the apostle Paul [Acts 9:15-18].

Well, in any event, in that sense of the word apostolos it refers technically to an office, and there are just twelve.  But in the New Testament, the word apostolos is used generally, and it refers to one who is sent forth preaching the gospel where no one else has ever preached it.  In that sense, Barnabas is called an apostle [Acts 14:14-15]; Andronicus and Junia are called apostles [Romans 16:7]; Epaphroditus is called an apostle [Philippians 2:25].  In that sense, it refers to a great gifted missionary who is establishing churches out on the very cutting edge, the frontier of the Christian domain; apostles.

Now prophets [Ephesians 4:11]prophētēs, prophēteuō—that’s another just very common word meaning “to speak forth,” to “forth tell.”  It was only in the Middle Ages, in medieval times, that the word prophecy entered the English language with the meaning, “a foretelling,” “prediction,” but mostly that does not obtain in the Bible.  Prediction is a secondary meaning in the Bible—prophēteuō, “to prophesy,” or the prophet—the prophet is a man who speaks for God.

Now it also is used in two ways in the New Testament.  The prophet sometimes is a man who fills an office: then it is also used like apostolos, in a general sense of a man who speaks in the inspiration of God.  In the Book of Acts, there is a distinction drawn between the two here in one verse and the other.  In the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Acts, Agabus is called a prophet [Acts 21:10].  He held the office of a prophet [Acts 3:22], such as Jeremiah was a prophet; the office of the prophet [Jeremiah 1:5].  Moses was a prophet.  He held the office of a prophet.  Samuel was a prophet [1 Samuel 3:19-20; Acts 13:20].  Agabus was a prophet [Acts 21:10], and in the New Testament church, the office of prophet was to tell the church what to do [Ephesians 4:11-13].  After the New Testament was written, there was no need to have a prophet.  We have it written here in Bible, so the office ceased [1 Corinthians 13:8], but the prophet in the New Testament church told the people what to do [Ephesians 4:11-13].

Now the word also is used generally, and here in the twenty-first chapter and the next verse, it speaks of “the four daughters of Philip who prophesied” [Acts 21:9].  There the word is used generally; a man is a “prophet” in the sense that he speaks the inspired wisdom of God [Acts 11:27, 21:10].

So God gave to the church apostles; and then He gave prophets; and then He gave evangelists [Ephesians 4:11]euaggelistēs, euaggelizō—”to tell the good news.”  Now an evangelist is characterized by two things in the New Testament: one, he is a man who especially emphasizes the good news, winning converts.  He’s telling the lost about the marvelous Savior.  Then second, in the New Testament he is an itinerant; that is, he’s not a settled pastor, but he goes from place to place proclaiming the good news, as they refer in the Bible to “Philip the evangelist” [Acts 21:8]: he went from place to place evangelizing, winning people to Christ.

Then He gave some, pastors [Ephesians 4:11], poimēn; that’s the Greek word for “shepherd,” a man who shepherds a flock; he lives with the people.  Sometimes in the Bible, he’s called an episkopos, an overseer.  Sometimes he is called a presbuteros, an elder, referring to the dignity of the office.  And then here, he’s called a poimēn; he’s called a “shepherd of the people.”

And He gave teachers—didaskalos, “teachers”—didactic given people, people who can take the Word of God and make it live [Ephesians 4:11].  Now Paul writes here that when the Lord went back to glory [Acts 1:9-10], that He poured out upon His church these grace gifts, and the grace gifts are these glorious ministers who stand in the presence of Christ doing His bidding, preaching His Word and teaching the Holy Scriptures [Ephesians 4:11].

And through the centuries—now one thousand nine hundred and seventy years; through the centuries, and it shall continue until Jesus comes again—the grace gifts of these endowed ministers of Christ have always been with His church [Ephesians 4:11]: in the New Testament the apostles, in the New Testament Stephen, Philip, Titus, Timothy, Epaphroditus, Tychicus; grace gifts for His church [Ephesians 4:11].

And then following the apostolic age, the ante-Nicene, the Nicene, and the post-Nicene years, the glorious outpouring of the ascension gifts of Christ [Ephesians 4:11], these men whom God has given to His church: Polycarp of Smyrna; Papias of Hierapolis; just across the Lycus River from Laodicea, Ignatius of Antioch; Justin Martyr of Samaria; all those marvelous, glorious men; Irenaeus, and Origen, and Tertullian, then Augustine, and Chrysostom, “the golden mouth.”  Then, before the Reformation, Peter Waldo, and John Huss, and Savonarola, and John Wycliffe, Thomas Cranmer, Ridley, Hugh Latimer.  Then, in the days of the Reformation, Martin Luther, and John Knox, and John Calvin, and Balthasar Hubmaier, and Felix Manx: the riches of God’s grace, His ascension gift upon His people, grace gifts, the people themselves [Ephesians 4:11].  Then, following the Reformation, in the seventeenth century, John Bunyan, and Roger Williams, and William Penn, and William Guthrie, and Samuel Rutherford. Then, in the eighteenth century, the Great Awakening and the great revival, the riches of God’s grace upon His church: John Wesley, Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, William Carey, Adoniram Judson.  Then, in the nineteenth century, it seems that God’s grace continues and continues the marvelous revivals under Charles G. Finney, and Dwight L. Moody, and Sam Jones, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, and David Livingstone, and Alexander MacLaren, and Christmas Evans.  Then, in the twentieth century, the marvelous outpouring of God’s grace gifts:  Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, Bill Glass, George W. Truett, Lee Scarborough.  Through all of the years, Christ has poured out from heaven these rich grace gifts upon His church, and He shall continue to do so until the consummation of the age [Ephesians 4:11].

You know, sometimes I think about those gifts of our Lord in the story of the translation of Elijah.  When he went up to heaven in a whirlwind, his mantle fell to the ground, and Elisha—who poured water on the hands of Elijah [2 Kings 3:11]—Elisha picked up that mantle and went to the swollen Jordan and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” And Elisha smote the waters of the river, and they parted, and when Elisha came back, the sons of the prophets at Jericho, watching him and looking at him, said, “The spirit of Elijah doth rest upon Elisha” [2 Kings 2:11-15].

The grace gifts of Christ [Ephesians 4:8, 11-12]; when these have served their generation, the Lord is not impoverished.  Of His abounding grace and fullness He pours out other gifts and raises up other men.  In Westminster Abbey, I stood at the monument—he’s not buried there at the monument, at the tablet—to John Wesley.  And there are some of the sayings of John Wesley on that inscription, such as “The world is my parish.”  When the churches excluded him, the Anglican Church, he went out on the commons and on the riverbanks to preach.  And he said, “The world is my parish,” and then this: “God buries His workman but carries on His work.”  When Elijah lays the mantle down, an Elisha is there to pick it up [2 Kings 2:13], and it will be that way till the Lord comes again; the grace gifts of the blessed Jesus upon His church [Ephesians 4:11-12].

Now, they are gifts: they are charismata, they are pneumatika, they are dōra.  They are grace gifts; grace gifts [Ephesians 4:11-12].  Here, these apostolos—today, our missionaries.  Out on the frontier as I visit these fields, I am overwhelmed by some of the grace gifts.  I think of a missionary in Guatemala.  Wherever he goes, there, there, there, all through that nation, he has that grace gift.  He establishes churches.  It’s a marvelous thing what he can do.  I saw that same thing in Rhodesia.  In Rhodesia, there is a missionary down there that, all through that country, has established churches: a grace gift.  I think of these evangelists.  One of our pastors came back from a stadium revival.  I was with him on the airplane.  He said, “I learned one thing about this.  I am no Billy Graham.” He is not an evangelist.  It is a grace gift.  It is something God does.  It’s one of the endowments that the Lord pours out upon His churches: a grace gift, an evangelist [Ephesians 4:11].  Why, I knew Bill Glass when he played at Baylor.  I knew Bill Glass when he played for the Browns in Cleveland.  I don’t know why it never occurred to me that Bill Glass would be God’s flaming evangelist, but today in these cities, I’ve run across his tracks I don’t know how many times.  It’s a grace gift!  It is something God has done: given that marvelous athlete to His church to enrich the saints of the Lord, to edify the household of faith and to win people to Jesus.  It’s a grace gift [Ephesians 4:11].

And when I went to school both in college and in the seminary, I would see men there, and as I would look at them, I’d think, “Dear me, if I were the Lord, that’d be the last somebody in this world that I’d call.  I just wouldn’t do it.  I just wouldn’t do it.”

Some of them are downright stupid.  Some of them are downright ignorant and can’t learn, and some of them looked like what the cats would drag up, just that way.  And yet as the years have passed, some of those boys that I went to school with, some of them are the finest professors in our institutions, and some of them are marvelous chaplains in our armies, and some of them are gifted in many, many areas of life, such as our denominational leadership.  It is a gift from heaven.  It has nothing to do with a man’s stupidity or his alacrity in intellectual processes; has nothing to do with his looks.  It is a gift from God!  It is something God does, and to see it—oh, how it blesses the soul and encourages us in the work of the Lord—these grace gifts the Lord has poured out upon His church [Ephesians 4:11-13].

Thomas Chalmers, in a little place in Scotland called Kilmeny, had a barren ministry, a sterile ministry.  Then upon a day he had an experience with the Lord, and when the people came to church they were overwhelmed by the miraculous transformation in Thomas Chalmers.  He became a flame of fire!

John Wesley came over here to Georgia in America to win people to Christ; went back home defeated, frustrated, discouraged.  He had no ministry!  Then at Aldersgate, at Aldersgate in London, he wrote, “I preached and they didn’t come.  Then, second, I preach and they come.”  It’s a grace gift from heaven.  It’s something God did.

Charles G. Finney was a lawyer, and when God endowed him and gave him for the revival of America and the winning of the lost on the frontier, a lawyer, a man wrote sending him a retainer; he sent it back and said, “I have a retainer now from the Lord.”

 Dwight L. Moody was just like another preacher.  Walking down Wall Street, the Holy Spirit of the Lord came upon him.  He went into the room of a friend—finally begged God to stay His hand lest he die!  And Dwight L. Moody said, “I preached the same sermons, I used the same words, but how God uses it!”  It’s a grace gift.  It’s something God does [Ephesians 4:11-13].

Here at Whitewright, Texas, there was a young fellow there who was going to school, preparing himself to be a lawyer.  He was barely at his twentieth year, and the church said to him, “We’re going to ordain you.  We’re going to ordain you.”

And the young man said, “Ordain me?  Why, I’m studying to be a lawyer.”

But the congregation said, “No, God has called you to be a minister and a preacher.”

He went to his mother.  His mother said, “Son, these are godly people.  They have the Spirit of the Lord.”  And they ordained the young man.

It’s a grace gift.  It’s something God does.  And when you see these men, oh!  How even in handicap and in weakness they honor and glorify God; it’s a gift from heaven.  It’s something God does.

 Moses said, “But I can’t talk.”  But God said, “Who made your mouth and your tongue?  I did it” [Exodus 4:10-11].

Jeremiah said, “But I’m a child.  I’m a afraid of their faces.”  But God sent him out [Jeremiah 1:4-2:2].

Simon Peter said, “Lord, I’m a sinful man” [Luke 5:8], but God used him.

The apostle Paul said, “Lord, this thorn in the flesh, this thorn in the flesh!”  But the Lord said, “My grace is all-sufficient, and My strength is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:7-9].  The weaker you are and the more ungifted you are, the more is God glorified in your dedication.

John Wesley—you know the Methodists are very proud.  They say John Wesley was five feet tall; that’s not so.  John Wesley was barely four feet, eleven inches tall, and these Methodists are trying to be proud, saying he’s five feet.  Can you imagine a man, four feet, eleven inches tall standing up here?  You couldn’t see him over this pulpit.  He married wretchedly, and upon a day, a friend came to see John Wesley and didn’t knock at the door.  He just walked into the house, and when he did, he saw John Wesley’s wife dragging him all over the house by the hair of the head.  It’s a grace gift.  God makes His minister a flame of fire; it’s something God does.

When I was in school, the man that most impressed me in chapel was a man who was deformed and crippled, and when he spoke, he couldn’t change the set of his head.  He spoke like this.  Oh, I never forget that man!  It’s something God does.

Upon a day when George Whitefield, the most eloquent of all the moving preachers whoever lived—remember when Benjamin Franklin went to hear, went to hear George Whitefield?  He left all his money at home, because he’d been told how Whitefield could move an audience; left all his money at home, and when George Whitefield got through preaching, Ben Franklin borrowed money in order to give it to that preacher and his cause.  Somebody listening to George Whitefield said the man could pronounce the word “Mesopotamia” and bring you to tears.

George Whitefield, the most moving, eloquent preacher whoever lived, gasped for breath; he was asthmatic.  When he came to Newburyport in Massachusetts, went up to bed, and the people of the town came to the host and said, “We want George Whitefield to preach for us.  Would you get him out of bed and tell him we’re here?  Ask him to preach for us.”  And the host went up and got George Whitefield out of bed.  He dressed; he came down the steps.  He stood on the bottom step and there, to the people who filled the hall and who crowded on the porch and who filled the yard, George Whitefield preached to the people about Jesus.  He had a candle in his hand on a candle holder, and when the candle burned down and went out, he closed his sermon and went back up there to the room and to bed, and died.  Asthmatic; he gasped for breath.

It is a gift of God; it is a grace God pours out on His church, and human nature in itself has nothing to do with it.  How the man looks, what his voice is, what his education is—an English teacher came up to Dwight L. Moody and said, “In your sermon today, here are seventeen flagrant grammatical errors.”  Dwight L. Moody said, “But, sir, I do the best I can for Jesus.  Do you?  Do you?”

It’s a gift.  It’s a grace gift—and I have to close—but we all have it.  Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ [Ephesians 4:7].  We all have a gift, all of us.  My gift from heaven is to be an undershepherd and a pastor.  Bill Glass’s gift from heaven is to be an evangelist.

Lee Roy’s gift from heaven is to lead the choir.  Why, he’s not trained to lead a choir.  He’s an engineer from LSU; that’s an infidel school! That’s no religious academy.  It’s a grace gift.  And did you know I could take these men here and go right down every one of them: God has given them a gift, a grace gift.  And beyond that in the second row and through the whole congregation, God has given according to the Word, and I haven’t time to expound it, God has given us grace gifts; the charismata, the pneumatika, the dōron.  That’s what the Lord enriches His church with from heaven.  It’s you, and it’s you, and it’s you [Ephesians 4:11-13].  And when the man comes before God and dedicates himself to the Lord, God blesses, and God uses, and the Lord sanctifies, and He will you [Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 2:13].

Oh, I must close.  When we stand in a moment and sing our hymn of appeal, a family you, or a couple you, or just one somebody you, while we sing the song, give your heart to the Lord [Romans 10:9-10].  Give your life to God.  Let the Lord use you and bless you.  He will.  Make the decision now, and in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming, down one of these stairways if you’re in the balcony, into the aisle and down to the front on this lower floor: “Pastor, this is my wife, both of us are coming.”  “Pastor, the whole family’s coming today, all of us,” or just you, while we sing the hymn, make the decision now, and on the first note of the first stanza, come.  When you stand up, stand up coming, and God’s angels will attend you in the way, while we stand and sing.