REACHING FORWARD, NOT LOOKING BACK
Published 31 Oct 2012
by John Aldworth
Eph. 4:7-11: 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 as 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.
It’s hard to drive a car forward when your gaze is fixed on the rear view mirror. You cannot see what is in front of you, nor what lies ahead. Since you only see what’s behind you the only way to go is backwards. And that is exactly what all too many Christian believers (including myself until recently) do. We go backwards in trying to understand scripture, not forwards.
Shortly, we will see what we can understand about the above passage in Ephesians 4, not by going backwards to reference it in the Gospels, Acts period epistles or the Old Testament but by treating it as the “present truth” it really is.
Before that, however, we need to see that it is an imperative in Bible study to “reach forth to the things which are before” as our Apostle Paul instructs us in Phil. 3:13, not looking backwards to “those things which are behind”.
In this verse Paul tell us that he counts not himself to have apprehended, that is, he has not apprehended all that Christ has apprehended Paul for (note the present truth tense).
“…but this one thing I do – forgetting the things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Jesus Christ.
“Things” in Paul’s writings often refer to truths revealed by God to men (see Phil. 1:10, 2:21, 3:1, 4:8) and also, at times, to those who believe them. If we are established in “present truth” we will find that what is true of the one is also true of the other.
Consequently, in moving from a mid-Acts position to find our “present truth”, church calling and future hope in Paul’s prison epistles, we find we must master a new principle in Bible study. Thus far, in terms of Bible study principles, we have learned that we should:
- Believe and respect all scripture as the written word of God.
- “Compare spiritual with spiritual” – 1 Cor. 2:13.
- “Rightly divide the word of truth” – 2 Tim. 2:15.
- “Approve the things that are excellent” or “differ”– Phil. 1:10
Now we must add two new scripture study principles:
- “Forgetting the things which are behind” – Phil. 3:13
- “Reaching forth to the things which are before” – Phil. 3:13.
If we believe we are “perfect” (Phil. 3:15) - because we have been perfected, that is made complete in Christ (Col. 2:10) - then we should be “thus minded” with the apostle in forgetting past doctrine and reaching forward to “present truth” Bible study, as the Paul the prisoner urges us to do.
Consider then two important examples of this difference. (Remember, we are told to “approve the things that are excellent” or that “differ” (margin note) in Phil. 1:10). So let’s compare:
- “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1. Cor. 2:2) with “To know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of Christ “(Eph. 3:19) and: “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord (i.e. the risen, ascended Lord in glory), so walk ye in Him” (Col. 2:6). And:
- “How that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures and that He was buried and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3-4 with “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27 and “…hath raised us up and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6).
All the above has been said, so that we can now study Eph. 4: 7-11 in the “present truth” light in which Paul wrote it.
A. First, then, note that the passage opens with the truth that:
“But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ” (Eph. 4:7).
This grace differs from the gospel of grace preached by Paul in the Acts period. That gospel set forth God’s grace in giving national Israel further opportunity to repent and in saving and admitting Gentiles to Israel’s kingdom calling and hope, grafting them into the Israel’s national olive tree (Rom. 11:17).
In contrast the grace “given according to the measure of Christ” has “quickened us together with Christ [not Israel] (by grace ye are saved)” (Eph. 2:5). Thus while the Acts period grace gospel plugged Gentiles into Israel’s calling, the grace given in Eph. 4:7 by contrast members us into the Mystery church calling and fills us with all the fullness of Christ Himself (Eph. 1:22-23).
B. In Eph. 4:8 we are told this grace is given in connection with Him having “... ascended up on high”. The “is” here denotes present and continuing action. The quotation is from Psalm 68:18. Often it is held to refer to Christ’s ascension after his resurrection from the tomb. But, since it is part of the Mystery “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men” until it was revealed to Paul in his Roman prison, this cannot be the case. We should not look backward but forward.
If we will do so we will realise that after Acts 28 and the setting aside of Israel, Christ ascended even higher, as it were, in receiving the Mystery revelation from the Father as part of his being exalted and “given a name above very other name” as we learn in Phil. 2:9. Thus this exaltation, this revelation of the Mystery, this giving of grace according to the measure of the [fullness] of Christ could only take place after Israel’s setting aside in Acts 28:28 and as such must be part of the “salvation ... sent to the Gentiles” (Acts 28:28).
That said, it may not come as too much of a shock to hear Brother Tom Ballinger suggest that when, in order to ascend and give gifts, our Lord first “descended into the lower parts of the earth,” he was not entering or re-entering the grave but appearing to Paul in his Roman prison cell. With Israel’s hope set aside, that was indeed the darkest, lowest place for the apostle or any belieiver to be until Christ revealed the new “hope of his calling” (Eph. 1:18) – that of Christ’s own appearing in glory (2 Tim. 4:1) - read Eph. 4:8-10 carefully.
C. Now consider what is meant by “leading captivity captive”. Psalm 68 is prophetic of what will happen in the day of his “appearing”, that is, the Day of Christ. This figure is drawn from the OT picture of the Lord leading Israel in triumph through the wilderness to scatter kings and ultimately establish the kingdom at Jerusalem. The fulfilment Paul sees in the current Mystery dispensation is that instead of the “law of sin bringing me into captivity” (Rom. 7:23), the law of sin itself has been seized and led captive by Christ. Instead of the apostle and belieivers who followed him striving in “pulling down strongholds” and “bringing every thought into captivity to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5), such "strongholds" and “captivity” have been taken captive by the Lord in his exaltation.
The fruits of this conquest are made real to every member of the “…church which is his body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). We have been “…delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the [heavenly] kingdom of his dear Son” (Col. 1:13). The resulot is that we are:
"Being fiilled with the fruits of righteouness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the gloory and praise of God" (Phil. 1:11).
Back in Ps. 68:18, note that the gifts are for “the rebellious also”. Having been “dead in trespasses and sins”, we must include ourselves in that company. Thank God that by being quickened, we too have been taken “captive” to Christ through the Mystery calling.
D. Now let’s look at Eph. 4:11-12
“And He gave some apostles, and some, prophets; and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saint, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the [Mystery] body of Christ … Till we all come in the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”.
I am indebted to Tom Ballinger of the website Plainer Words for the understanding that these men of God given by Christ were given for a special reason at a special time and that their ministry ceased long ago, leaving only the revelation of God to Paul in Scripture and the Holy Ghost as our teachers to day. According to Tom they were given by Christ to bring believers of the Acts period, split as they were into two camps, into the “one new man” of the prison epistles revelation. Gal. 2:19 and its context makes plain that in the Acts period there was one group of Jews obeying the law under the gospel of the circumcision and another of Gentiles under the gospel of the uncircumcision who were free from circumcision and other Mosaic commands. Both belonged to the “Church of God” calling in the Acts period.
Sadly, most of those called and saved in this Pentecostal dispensation of the Acts period, rejected the further call to come into Mystery truth. Thus Paul in 2 Tim. 1:15 says “…all they that be in Asia be turned away from me”. In the face of this rejection the spokesmen specially given by Christ in Eph. 4:11 to effect this transition were withdrawn, leaving Paul to stand alone as “preacher and apostle and teacher of the Gentiles” (2 Tim. 1:11). In the Bible therefore he is the only teacher of Christ’s appearing to us Gentiles in the glorious gospel which brings immortality and life to light (2. Tim. 1:10). He is the apostle who urges us to look for the “blessed hope [of his] glorious appearing” (Titus. 2:13).