Individual Responsibility – Ephesians 4. 7-16

By One Man “

Few subjects in sacred or secular history can be so interesting or instructive as the far-reaching results that How from the life and work of one individual.Just as we have but recently seen Europe drenched in blood through one man, so, few would deny that the free nations of the world owe an incalculable debt, under God, to one man, who marshalled the forces of liberty and powerfully voiced to all, the assertion of its principles. In Rom. 5. 19 we have, compressed into a single verse, the almost limitless results, first for evil and then for good, flowing in each case from one man.

In our assemblies we are sometimes given ministry stated to be for “ the young “ or for “ the ciders “ ; and sometimes “ the sisters “ are given a word all to them-selves–not always, by the by, as encouraging as it should be. But in verse 16 of our passage it is all the body … “ which, knit together by that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love.” Notice carefully the emphasized phrases here. Clearly every single member, every individual, is con-templated as playing his individual part in this mystic whole.

The Setting

First let us get the background thoughts and the setting against which this principle of individual function-ing, and hence individual responsibility, is seen. In Eph. 1 we have our blessed position, “ accepted in the beloved.” Through our vital union with Him, the place He occupies is our place, and so in Him we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies. Have we given sufficient thought to this supreme wonder, our position “ in “ Him ?

In the next chapter (Eph. 2) we have the wonderful prospect, “ in the ages to come … the exceeding riches of His grace.” For we are saved by grace. And the exhibition in us of this grand, sovereign grace in all its riches will be to the praise of His glory, and thus His inheritance in the saints, of which we have been made meet to be partakers.

And in chapter ,'i we have as the present possibilities, (a) that Christ may dwell, i.e. take up a settled abode in our hearts by faith (v. 17), and (b) to know the love–surpassing knowledge–of Christ (v. 19). Let us not forget these immense unsearchable realities: for realities they are; they are to be realized and entered upon in present experi-ence (see Josh. 1. 3), though only Spirit-revealed. It is in the strength and joy of these that we may turn to our personal responsibilities, and they will have full weight with us when we keep before us always that God has placed us members in the body “ each one as it hath pleased Him “ {1 Cor. 12. 18). Paul’s methods show how this was ever before him. See, for instance, 1 Thess. 2. 1J, “ exhorted, comforted, and charged, each one of you.”

The Working Out

1. For salvation it was as individuals that we came to Christ. Whether in the great crowd or alone, our attitude was “ God be merciful to me, the sinner.” And since then our most precious truth has been, “ The Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Salvation is an utterly individual matter. So likewise is the process of sanctification. Any doubt as to this can be quickly resolved by an examination of the great section on sancti-fication, Rom. chs. 6-8, where the more the conflict is intensified, the more intensely individual it is seen to be : “I was alive," “ slew me," “ O wretched man that / am," “ Hath made me free," and so forth.

2. In consecration too, the plainest language is addressed not to the company but to the individual, “ to every man that is among you “ (Rom. 12. 1-4). We have to “ think soberly “ and not to have ‘ high thoughts above what we ought to think ‘ (v. 3). This means that we have to find out by sober thinking, and not by ambitious think-ing, exactly what we have each one been fitted for. Thus, by the renewing of our mind (not “ minds," but each individual mind) shall we discover what is the will of God for us–each one–and find it “ good, and acceptable, and perfect.” Thus it is seen that consecration is, equally with salvation, a quite individual matter. How many servants of the Lord have “ proved “ this, to their happi-ness !

3. In service also He gave to each one his work (Mark 13. 34, R.V.).This is the scene in John 21,The Lord gives Peter his own work, “ Feed My sheep," etc. ; and, had Peter left it at that, all had been well. But, like so many of us, he looked on his fellow-disciple John and said, “ Lord and what shall this man do ?” Our Lord’s gracious but firm answer is one for each of us to take to heart, “ What is that to thee ? Follow thou Me.” How delight-fully this works out in Acts 11. Agabus delivers his in-spired message regarding the dearth. “ Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief" (v. 29).

4. In responsibility. “ So than each one of us shall give account of himself to God “ (Rom. 14. 12, R.V.) ; “ the fire shall try every man’s work, of what sort it is “ (1 Cor. 3. 13). It is clear then that we cannot shelve this responsibility. Nor can we shift it on to others’ shoulders, for “each man shall bear his own burden” (Gal. 6. 5, R.V.). And in a day soon, surely to come, it will be seen that we cannot hide from it. “ For the Lord will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts, and then shall each man have praise from God “ (1 Cor. 4. 5, R.V.). Serious and solemn is this fact that, though we work and live with our fellow-believers, and arc looked to also to work and live in harmony with them, the responsibility, the answerability, is entirely our own.It is intensely and utterly individual.

5.In reward. “ I come quickly … to give each man according as his work shall be “ (Rev. 22. 13). Each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (1 Cor. 3. 8, R.V.). In the O.T. we have illustrations of this solemn day. Gen. 22. The. Angel of the Lord called out of Heaven the second time, “Because thou hast done this “–laying his all on the Altar–" in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Blessing will yet come to countless millions through this one man.

Recompense and Results

God’s appreciation. Then in 1 Kings 15. 5, David’s godly life is given as the reason why one so unlike David is allowed to reign. David “ turned not aside … save only in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” God’s holiness could not overlook the dark blot, nor His righteousness forget the long years of obedience. We learn here the Lord’s discrimination. In the third and last illustra-tion we see God’s valuation. Sitting over against the treasury He saw the poor widow casting in her two mites, and said she “ hath case in more than they all “ (Luke 21. 3).

Soon, very soon, before those All-seeing Eyes will all our service be reviewed. May we each take Paul’s words, “ Lord what wilt Thou have me to do ?" and by His grace do it.


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