In a Nutshell…
Read the passage here.
Firstly, a couple of exegetical considerations.
To begin with, we should take a very quick look at Paul’s quotation at the beginning of this passage. The major exegetical question involves Paul’s use of Psalm 68:18:
You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the Lord God may dwell there.
So Paul appears to have made a couple of changes to the text of Psalms (most likely intentionally):
- The subject of the passage is Jesus
- Paul speaks of the subject giving gifts instead of receiving them.
There’s far too much material and debate to discuss this in detail but for our purposes, it is worth understanding that Psalm 68 speaks of God’s victories on behalf of his people over the nations. There seems to be a wide variety of Jewish interpretations on this passage but a significant one is that the Psalms passage refers or alludes to Moses receiving the Law. Paul seems to be indicating that the triumph spoken of in Psalm 68 is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. And from that victory, Jesus, by grace, gives gifts to his people.
So what are these gifts that Jesus gives that Paul is speaking of? In v. 11, he tells us that we are given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. This brings us to the second exegetical point that I want to make, a minor one.
That is that we should not consider this list exhaustive. Paul includes several such lists throughout his letters and in no case are we expected to understand any of those lists (or even all of the lists together) as representing all of the gifts that God gives. But the list that Paul does give is of roles or functions that “equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
To further emphasize the directive (to be equipped; to reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God; to become mature – all of these being the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?) Paul illustrates the opposite:
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
This is where I would like to pause and consider today. That we would no longer be infants…blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. This is one of the reasons that we, as a particular body, in this time and in this place, gather together. It’s why we meet in community groups, it’s why we do book club, and it’s why we talk so much here on Sundays.
There’s an awful lot of voices in the world today. There are a lot of different things and people telling us what’s true, what’s right and what’s wrong, what we should think and how we should think.
In Lesslie Newbigin’s book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, one of the things that Newbigin talks about is plausibility structures. Plausibility structures are those beliefs, values, and assumptions that exist within (or in fact make up) cultures and shape the way we see things. Another way to think about that might be “interpretive lens” or simply, “cultural assumptions about the way the world is and should be.”
For example, part of the plausibility structure in Western is that religion is essentially a private affair and that, at least, governments should not impose religion on the people. But this is not the case in many countries. We in the west run into cultural clashes with these countries and therefore make value and ethics judgments when we collide. The same might be said about the role of women in various societies or the role of children in different societies.
A particular such structure in the increasingly post-modern West is individualism. In the West, the basic unit of society is the individual and this seems obvious to us (because we live within the plausibility structure). But in many other societies this isn’t the case. In other societies, the basic unit of society is not the individual but the family. Or it might be the village. Especially if we look at societies outside of contemporary societies (i.e. across the ages) this seems obviously true.
Now increasing individualism in contemporary, post-modern, Western society has profound repercussions for how we view a whole host of other things. Individualism, for example, is intimately connected with relativism – another charge against our post-modern society. Relativism says, for example, that truth is relative to your perspective. What’s true for one person may not be true for another person. But really, don’t we really mean that what’s true is what’s true for me? We are okay with people believing other things so long as it doesn’t invalidate me. We’re okay with other people practicing other things so long as it doesn’t impact me.
One of the things that we do as a church is to try to make sure that the world we inhabit is God’s world. That the lens through which we see the world is a biblical lens. To make sure that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” It is for that reason that Christ gives us “the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers” and all the other gifts that He gives us.
So What Now…?
Firstly, I would like us to think about how many of the things we believe and therefore do, how we see things and what we value, are informed by the dominant culture rather than by God. Furthermore, how much of what we think God thinks is really what we think, which is maybe really what the world thinks, rather than what God thinks.
Secondly, I would encourage each of us to dig deeply into God. We are fortunate that we have many members of our community who are passionate about the word of God. People that you can ask for opinions, insight, and information. And I would also encourage you to listen to people outside of our walls who can encourage, educate, and disciple you. Some of the people that I like to refer to include:
As we as a community continue to seek and grow,
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.