Appreciating the Ascension: Gifted

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Happy Ascension Day! Throughout this week, we have taken time to consider the practical significance of the ascension for Christians today. So far, we have seen that the ascension (1) highlights the universal reign of Jesus Christ, (2) empowers Christians to hold fast their confession and emboldens their prayers, and (3) secures the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. But Paul also tied the ascension to the supply of spiritual gifts to the church:

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.

(Ephesians 4:7–13)

According to this text, when Christ took his throne, he began distributing gifts to his church in order for the body of Christ to be built. The ascension, therefore, provides confidence that our churches can be built into maturity in Christ. Since Jesus Christ reigns over all things, he guarantees the church’s onward progress toward ultimate Christlikeness.

Sometimes, it feels like church ministry is stagnating. Sometimes, it feels like the church is moving backwards rather than forwards in maturity. The ascension of Christ gives us hope that maturity is certain. Just as every Christian will certainly attain Christlikeness, so every church will ultimately “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” His ascension guarantees it.

As a Christian, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, you have a spiritual gift—or possibly spiritual gifts. God intends you to use the gifts he has given to you, in the context of the local church, to accomplish at least three broad purposes.

First, spiritual gifts are the tangible manifestation of Christ’s presence on earth. Paul called the gifts “the manifestation of the Spirit” given to the church (1 Corinthians 12:7). Wayne Grudem suggests that one of the primary purposes of spiritual gifts is “to give indications that make the presence of God known” and that “when the Holy Spirit works in various ways that can be perceived by believers and unbelievers, this encourages people’s faith that God is near and that he is working to fulfil his purposes in the church and to bring blessing to his people.”

Second, spiritual gifts serve to remind us of our interdependence in the church. In the context of spiritual gifts, Paul wrote that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:3–8). We have different gifts, and the diverse gifting serves to remind us that we need each other.

Third, spiritual gifts highlight the unity of the Spirit in the church. The purpose of the gifts in the church is to help us corporately “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13).

These three things—the tangible manifestation of Christ’s presence; an understanding of our interdependence; and the growing unity of the church—are possible only through the Christ-honouring use of spiritual gifts, which is dependent on the ascension.