Starting in chapter four, Paul has transitioned his focus for the Ephesian believers from being "in Christ" to now "walk[ing] in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called." In this first part of chapter four, Paul deals directly with the all-important issues of unity and love. As believers we are to walk in a manner worthy which, according to Paul's focus, is based first and foremost upon our walk with Christ. As a result, the unity and love we have with one another are preserved.
In verse 7, Paul declares: "But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift." He has declared that we are one, emphasizing the unity of the Body of Christ and our oneness together. Now Paul emphasizes our individuality within the Body of Christ. As believers we do not lose our personalities or the uniqueness of who we are. In fact, we are each given grace according to the "measure", the weighing out, "of Christ's gift." There is a "Body life" experience as we are one in Christ, while at the same time we are unique individuals within the Body.
We are one Body, having one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, and faith, etc. (4:4-6). Our foundation is Christ and the salvation He provides by grace through faith. Paul now takes a step into that grace and speaks on the issue of the grace which the Lord gives in measure on an individual basis regarding Christian living.
The context here is verse 12 and following, where Paul writes about apostles, prophets and other "graced", gifted men, given to the Church. Paul begins to speak on the issue of gifts which are a direct result of grace. God's grace is clearly salvific-all of us as believers come out of the same well of grace. Yet grace is also transformative, as each individual one of us has a unique experience of Grace.
W. Robertson Nicoll, in the Expositor's Greek Testament, explains as follows: "Each gets the grace which Christ has to give, and each gets it in the proportion in which the Giver is pleased to bestow it; one having it in larger measure and another in smaller, but each getting it from the same Hand and with the same purpose."
Why this gifting of each individual with a special measure of God's grace? Contextually, we see that it is for the unity of the Body of Christ and the building up of that Body in love.
Does Christ have the authority to give gifts of grace? Paul takes an interesting turn in verses 8 and 9, quoting from Psalm 68 concerning a King's victory. The key here is that Christ gives gifts because He is the Conquering Victor. The Lord has the right to give gifts of grace because He is victorious.
Paul introduces a very vivid description of the ascension of the Lord in victory. After the crucifixion of Christ, the Lord is said to have descended into the "lower parts of the earth." Clearly the Lord after his physical death did several things. First of all, He proclaimed victory to those who did not believe in Him and are presently in waiting for the final judgment. Peter tell us in 1 Peter 3:18-20 that the Lord "made proclamation," meaning to proclaim victory, to the "spirits now in prison." Many see this prison as the section of Hades where unbelievers are being held awaiting the final judgment. The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 gives us insight into this.
Secondly, the Lord brought those who had believed in the salvation He would provide as the Lamb (and who were waiting for His coming), into the heavens, taking them out of Paradise. Paradise, we think, is the part of Hades that was not a place of suffering-sometimes referred to in Scripture as "Abraham's bosom".
Thirdly, the Lord, in ascending into heaven passed through the "heavens" making a public display of the "rulers and authorities," the satanic forces, having triumphed over them. (Heb. 4:14 and Col. 2:13-15).
In referring to this, Paul emphasizes the great victory that the Lord has accomplished through His death on the cross and His right to give gifts of grace to men because of His triumph over death and the satanic forces of evil.
As believers each one of us has been given a measure of grace by the Lord. The grace that has been given us is for the purpose of serving the Body of Christ, the church, preserving the unity that we have with one another, and ultimately for the building up of the Body of Christ in love. God's ways are higher than ours, and His grace to each one of us is sufficient in the midst of our lives. As we follow Him, are we walking in His empowering grace enjoying the fellowship we have with the Lord and with each other?
Erik Christensen is senior pastor of Hoffmantown Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico.