“8 Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."
The next subject that Paul deals with, having spoken of the unity of the Spirit given to God's people from Christ, is the thought of 'diversity in unity', which he proceeds to open up in these verses in terms of the gifts that the ascended and exalted Lord gives to His church to equip them for service for Him. In 4:12 he expresses this in terms which are not sufficiently clear in the AV translation, but which the commentaries and some modern renderings make plain. The verse should read:
'With a view to the equipment of the saints for the service they are to render Him, and for the building up of the body of Christ'
'To prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up' (NIV)
'His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole body might be built up until the time comes when we arrive at real maturity …' (JBP)
We will look in more detail at this verse in due course, but in the meantime we consider the issue of diversity in unity in the people of God, and the fact that within that unity there is a wide variety of function and responsibility in the gifts that the Spirit of God bestows. Paul, in fact, deals with this subject in a number of different ways in his epistles, as cf his words in 1 Corinthians 12:27ff, 'ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.' Here, he deals with this general principle in a particular way in relation to the gifts with which some members of the church are endowed in terms of the ministry of the Word (Paul uses other 'lists' of gifts elsewhere, eg. 1 Corinthians 12:9ff and Romans 12:4ff and these should be compared with the 'list' given here).