For anyone who was at the New Wine National Leaders Conference two weeks ago and heard Alan Hirsch so graciously honour me from the stage but didn’t know why, it was for my interpretation of Paul’s use of Psalm 68 in Ephesians 4:7-11.
Psalm 68 is a multi-layered depiction of God descending from Mount Sinai and ascending Mount Zion; a victorious figure returning home with those taken prisoner by his enemies, whom he has set free; leading a procession of captives, who present him with their tribute; and distributing gifts, including the gift of relationships and the gift of spacious and secure territory to settle, to his people. As a result, God’s reign is extended over the nations, to his glory.
Why does Paul make use of this Psalm in this context? My contention is that he is interpreting it as an image of Jesus’ incarnation and ascension, to explain how Jesus has set prisoners free, received them as tribute, and given them to his people, for the purpose of the expansion of his family and extension of his kingdom.
Moreover, the implication of this is that everyone being an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a pastor or a teacher – the text makes it clear that these are all people-as-gift – is not something that we become at the point of liberation but something we are, that is liberated. In other words, being an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher is what Jesus created you as; and – as a result of his incarnation and ascension, following the triumph of his resurrection – when we recognise Jesus as King, when we offer ourselves to his service (kingdom), when we are set free to be his family (covenant), then he gives us to his body (covenant relationships and kingdom purpose; being and doing).
Clearly there are those who pioneer beyond the known and reform the known, who pursue justice and creativity, who spread good news, who heal the broken, and who hand on wisdom to the next generation, who are yet to meet Jesus for who he is.
And this means that we need to re-frame discipleship:
from ‘following’ Jesus in an abstract sense to growing into our identity in him; and
from something that begins at conversion to something that begins way before that point.
Making disciples is about helping others discover who God created them to be, to step into and live in the freedom God intended, and to engage with the – at times messy – dynamics of inter-dependence.