You ascended on high,
leading a host of captives in your train
and receiving gifts among men,
even among the rebellious, that the LORD God may dwell there.
(Psalm 68:18 ESV)
“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.’”
(Ephesians 4:7–8 ESV)
Psalm 68 is a battle hymn in which the LORD takes captive the rebels and plunders their goods. That’s what “receives gifts among men” means.
But Paul, quoting this verse says it quite differently. He says that God “gave gifts to men” and explains these gifts are 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.”
So, there’s a little tension here that we have to work out. What are the gifts? Are the gifts the plunder of God’s conquered enemy? Or are the gifts the blessing of godly people to the church? The answer is—YES!
God plunders the enemy by converting rebels into gifts to the church.
God takes someone like Paul who persecuted the church and turns him into an apostle. God takes men like [INSERT NAMES OF ELDERS] who once cared little for Jesus and turns them into men who have devoted their lives to serving Christ’s body. God takes you, who once were enemies of God, and by his grace redeems you to be a blessing and a gift to others within this body of Christ.
God saves rebels. That’s good news. That’s the gospel! That’s reason to praise him!
Prayer of Preparation for Worship
Heavenly Father, be magnified in the praises of your people today. We affirm that “Jesus Christ is Lord” to the redound of your glory (Philippians 2:11). He alone is our salvation.
Lord Jesus, on the cross you received the death penalty reserved for God’s enemies on our behalf, that we may be pardoned for our rebellion and granted new life.
Holy Spirit – you have given us new hearts – not the stony hearts of rebels but of worshipers, lovers of God, and disciples of Jesus.
Continue your good work in us today. help us now to focus our minds’ attention and our heart’s affection on the Lord Jesus Christ and to treasure him above all earthly treasures. Make the gospel breathtakingly beautiful in our eyes and grant faith and repentance to any among us who might remain in rebellion under the wrath of God (John 3:36) and add them among the number of the rescued captives who have been granted eternal life.
Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—Lift up our hearts! We lift them up to You.