However, He has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ. That is why the Scriptures say, “When He ascended to the heights, He led a crowd of captives and gave gifts to His people.” Notice that it says “He ascended.” This clearly means that Christ also descended to our lowly world. And the same One who descended is the One who ascended higher than all the heavens, so that He might fill the entire universe with Himself. Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.Ephesians 4:7-11
There is much debate and conjecture over what Paul is doing here. Bottom line it is perplexing as to why Paul quotes this Psalm, and applies it to the ascension of the Redeemer. As I told you yesterday Paul quotes from Psalm 68, which is a psalm of God triumph over the enemies and taking captives but it has this element in it about receiving gifts. As we noted yesterday, Paul switches the focus from gift receiving to gift giving. Yes it was true that the all conquering hero in Rome would parade the prisoners of war in front of the procession. The spoils of war meant gifts were distributed to friend and foe alike. Why is Paul thinking captives? Why does his mind turn to this word picture. He has done this before. In fact he has pondered on this very victory procession before in 2 Cor 2:14. [Bible Gems 516 and 517]
But there is a reference closer to hand than that. In 4:1 Paul refers to himself as a prisoner in the Lord. With that Paul’s thoughts appear to turn to Psalm 68 and he thinks of God leading a crowd of captives out following which he thinks of the Roman triumphal procession where gifts were given and received and so he says the things he said. But note how he switches the focus from receiving gifts to giving gifts. The God who leads us in His procession doesn’t take our possessions as His spoils of war, he gives to us. He gives us many spiritual blessings as a result. With all of this Paul turns again to the spiritual gifts that God has distributed. In that context he mentions the One who has ascended has also descended. This puts the commentators and the experts of the text into a tail spin. Paul can’t be quoting something in a context that the Psalmist didn’t mean it. Why not? Paul can take something from the Old Testament and invest it with New Testament perspective, can’t he?
His thoughts come from the triumphal procession it seems, given the context of the Psalm. That is what has come to mind. But then Paul rethinks the hero who classically receives gifts and contrasts that with this One who has descended to us and the ascended, and has given so that we might have all God’s gifts and blessings. These are not new thoughts in Ephesians. We have met these concepts before. It is just that Paul has added them with a twist. In this context he lists the gifts that are ours and sets them in the context of us receiving from our all conquering king. The expanded insertion of the quote from Psalm 68 leads to Paul to thinking about this heavenly hero who doesn’t take from his subjects but gives to them. The gifts says Paul are the ministry gifts. Gifts to build up the body as a whole.
Yes I, Paul, maybe a prisoner for the Gospel but the king I serve is like no other. He doesn’t strip me of everything that is mine like a prisoner of war; rather He gives me everything that is His as a gift. What is interesting is that Paul has twisted the meaning of the Old Testament passage to make his point, thus throwing all the commentators into turmoil because he is not playing by the rules. So? He is perfectly at liberty to rethink concepts in the light of the resurrection and eternity.
It seems too much of a coincidence that Paul can talk of being a prisoner in Lord and then switch the imagery to captives taken captive in the triumphal procession without it being linked. Note too that Paul is actually wanting to talk about the ministry gifts to the body. That much is clear from the way he has structured it. The challenge to us is how to explain the quote for Psalm 68 in this context of the gifts and images of captivity. This is a new way of looking at it even for me. Again as I said yesterday I offer you this as my opinion. This I say not the Lord. I haven’t come across this interpretation anywhere else. It is entirely my own OPINION (not the Lord). So it needs checking out. Be like the Bereans who checked out what Paul said against the Scriptures. (Acts 17:11) This is after all Berean Insights. You should do no less for me but allow me the latitude of pondering radical new perspectives or tell me what you think. I would love to hear your response.
Don’t be afraid to think about what you read in Scripture and more importantly what it means to you. If you are still confused take the time to read what the commentators have to say about this passage but I won’t guarantee you will end up any the wiser.
We will look specifically at the nature of the gifts listed tomorrow.
To go a full week without admitting at least one of your OPINIONS was wrong means you’re neither listening nor learning.Rick Warren
If you aren’t prepared to change your mind, don’t ask for input.Ian Vail
It’s never WHO’S right, but WHAT is right, that’s important!Rick Godwin