Paul is careful, very careful, to make sure the Ephesian Christians know from whence their help has come. As he lays out before them the various gifts of the Spirit, he is sure to mention that these are not merited or earned, but are given through grace by the measure of Christ’s gift. It is a somewhat archaic turn of phrase, which the New Living Translation tries to make more understandable by rendering it, “he has given each one of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ.”
The Church, to her credit, has continued to try to remind Christians, especially those who are called to leadership, that the gifts they will utilize in their ministries are precisely that: gifts. In the Examination of a soon-to-be-ordained Priest, the Bishop, finishes the prologue with these words, “In all that you do, you are to nourish Christ’s people from the riches of his grace…” (BCP, 531) One of the questions asked of a soon-to-be-ordained Bishop echos those words, “As a chief priest and pastor, will you encourage and support all baptized people in their gifts and ministries, nourish them from the riches of God’s grace, pray for them without ceasing, and celebrate with them the sacraments of our redemption?” (BCP, 518)
As Evan Garner helpfully reminds us in his post for today, it is easy to forget that grace is a gift. Rather than stand on the mountain top with our Savior, we tend to slip down one side or the other: either forgetting all about God in our successes or feeling totally unlovable in our failures, but grace is given out of God’s generosity to those who think they don’t deserve it as well as those who think they don’t need it.
Paul’s message to the Church in Ephesus is the same message Jesus tried to give the crowd in Capernaum: it isn’t about the work you do. Instead, salvation is about the work God is doing, constantly pouring out his gift of grace and the gifts of the Spirit for the up-building of the kingdom and the restoration of creation. There is great freedom in accepting the reality that grace is simply a gift, but it also comes with real responsibility. We are to use the gifts of God wisely, not for ourselves, but for the whole world. We are to share the grace given to us, to use the gifts of preaching, healing, administrating, teaching, etc., to grow the kingdom and to bring honor and glory to the Father from whom every good gift comes.