Ephesians 4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
Writing to the Christians in Ephesus, from where many churches had been planted across the cities of Asia Minor, about the gifts of Christ—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—Paul refers to Psalm 68, citing (in Ephesians 4:8) verse 18.
I have argued for the best part of twenty years that this is not a tangential thought, but that it anchors Paul’s thesis. Psalm 68 describes God descending on Mount Sinai in order to liberate his people from slavery in Egypt; journeying with them in the wilderness in order to shape a new community; before ascending on Mount Zion. For Paul, this prefigures the incarnation, ministry, and ascension of Jesus. The ascended Jesus liberates women and men who have been held captive to death by taking them captive by and for Life; and gives these newly-liberated human beings as gifts to his people, his ‘body’ the Church.
But when Jesus, or Paul, or any of the other writers of the New Testament, cite a verse from what we now call the Old Testament, they are expecting their hearers to do some work, to call to mind the full context being referred to. And twelve verses before the one Paul explicitly cites, Psalm 68 declares:
‘God gives the desolate a home to live in;
he leads out the prisoners to prosperity,
but the rebellious live in a parched land.’
In recent weeks it has struck me with fresh force that the outworking of Jesus’ gift-giving, Ephesians 4:12-16, is also anchored in Psalm 68: that we find the fullest fulfilment of our personal calling within the context of the body of Christ, the Church, a community in which we are given a home and, together, do the hard but worthwhile work of knitting-together for mutual prospering. The picture painted in Psalm 68, taken as a whole, is of the transformation of the whole world, physical landscape and human society. The purposes of Christ, in laying claim to the redeeming of all, of each, of captive apostle and prophet and evangelist and shepherd and teacher is no smaller vision.
(By the way, ‘children’ in Ephesians 4:14—we must no longer be children—is better translated ‘childish’—we must no longer be childish.)