ascension gifts – the heart of
by Michael Fewson
Ascension gifts are those particular people whom God has called according to His will, through Jesus Christ and empowered by the Spirit to be gifts to His church. They are captivated by Jesus Christ and can do nothing but pursue the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus and share that knowledge with the body of Christ and all who will receive their gospel.
In the current climate of celebrity ministries perhaps one of the most important tasks for the church today is distinguishing between those who are chosen and those who choose themselves; people given to the church by Jesus in contrast to those who call themselves ministers—how do we recognise ascension gifts of Jesus?
Jesus stated, “…you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”1 And again he said, “… whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”2
Acceptance of ascension gifts should not be seen as an optional extra nor their message taken under advisement. When we receive those sent by Jesus we actually receive Jesus himself. When we declare (actually believe) that the messenger of Jesus is blessed Jesus Himself will be revealed.
But who is it that comes in the name of the Lord? Jesus said that not everyone who says Lord will enter into His kingdom3. He does however give us a clear picture of those who will come in His name.
Matt 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. NIV
Those who come in their own name will not reveal Christ because Jesus is neither their passion nor their message. An ascension gift of Jesus can be identified by their passion to know and live for and to proclaim Christ crucified and to see Him glorified in the church. They want to know Him alone and to make Jesus known.
Point of personal existence—to know Christ
Ascension gifts are so captivated by the glory of Jesus Christ that their one desire is to know Him and the message of His cross. They desire only to live for, and die for, Christ.
Phil 3:7-11 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. NIV
Everything about the Apostle Paul can be summed up in the phrase ‘to know Christ”. Whether he is speaking of himself or his desire for those he was an apostle to, the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus was his passion. He saw his life not as his own but belonging to Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ,” he declares, “and I no longer live”. It is “Christ [who] lives in me.” (Gal 2:20 NIV) Concerning his churches he prayed that they may receive the “Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better”. (Eph 1:17 NIV)
Spurgeon in lectures to my students said, “If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor, or a grocer, or a farmer, or a doctor, or a lawyer, or a senator, or a king, in the name of heaven and earth let him go his way; he is not the man in whom dwells the Spirit of God in its fullness, for a man so filled with God would utterly weary of any pursuit but that for which his inmost soul pants.” This is a very apt statement in identifying whether one is called as an ascension gift.
Throughout history it is evident that many saw and pursued the preaching of the gospel as a means to financial and/or personal gain (2 Cor 2:17). We should not be surprised if today men and women who profess to be ‘servants of Christ’ do in fact pursue personal gain. How do we identify those who we should follow?
Paul compelled his churches to follow his example as he followed Christ. (1 Cor 4:16; 11:1; Phil 3:17) The writer of Hebrews cautions his readers to; “remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Heb 13:7)
Leaders in God’s house are only leaders if they are leading others into the knowledge of God the Father, who reveals himself in His Son Christ Jesus through the Holy Spirit. If a person can pursue wealth, or politics, social work or some other activity then they are not called as ascension gifts4. If a person speaks about the ‘blessings of God’ yet fails to reveal Christ through the word of the cross, they are no minister of Christ.
With today’s celebrity style ministries how does one “consider the outcome of their way of life”? The ministry of Jesus was not on a stage removed from His ‘audience’ while staying in a hotel, rather, His service to the Father on earth happened as he lived and walked among the people. The ascension gifts in the New Testament were very much involved day to day with the church. They, like everyone in the church, had all things in common.
Point of Ministry—to present everyone perfect in Christ
Ascension gifts of Jesus are literally ‘friends of the bridegroom’. They desire for the bridegroom to have a perfect wedding day and labour to that end5.
Paul told the Corinthian church, “I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” (2 Cor 11:2 NIV) And this is the heart of every ascension gift of Jesus, that the church will be a radiant bride for Jesus Christ. The point of an ascension gift of Jesus is not to be relevant or accepting, but to be admonishing and teaching so that they may ‘present everyone perfect in Christ’.
Col 1:28-2:3 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me. I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. NIV
A Final Thought—to those who feel called
It seems a popular thought among people holding paid positions in churches that ‘ministry’ is an occupation or vocation that needs to be kept in perspective. Balance is the key and the prioritising of things more important than ‘ministry’. While it is true that one does not want to burn out or break down, the intimation is that those who are passionate for the sake of the gospel are the ones burning out. I would suggest that it is more probably those who are not called; those who see ‘ministry’ as a vocation who will burn out or break down. This is because they are not ‘struggling with all His energy’, but with their own energy.
Like Spurgeon and like the Apostle Paul I believe that ascension gifts are men who can do nothing else. By that I mean they are so passionate about Jesus Christ and the message of the cross and for the bride of Christ that they would waste away in any other service. To live is Christ to die is gain. There is no other perspective or priority because ascension gifts are gifts of Jesus himself. Uncalled people burn out doing stuff that has little to do with being an ascension gift. Ministry is the work of the saints prepared for service by ascension gifts.
Jesus lives for His Father and ascension gifts live for Jesus. Jesus’ entire life was governed by one thing, to do the will of the Father. Ascension gifts live for one thing, to do the will of the Son who comes from the Father.
This is the heart of those who come in the name of the Lord; to know Christ; to live Christ; to proclaim Christ crucified.6
- Luke 13:35 NIV ↩
- John 13:20 NIV ↩
- Mat 7:21-23 ↩
- There are some ascension gifts who work in secular employment in order to pursue the knowledge and calling of God, as Paul did from time to time ↩
- John 3:27-30 To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. NIV ↩
- Anything else is false; wolves in sheep’s clothing. ↩