15. A Reigning Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  15. A Reigning Body

Eph 2:6,7  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus

And so we come to the last of this particular series which leaves us realizing a crucial spiritual reality – and it is spiritual.  We have considered that we, the Church, are Christ’s body on earth today, and that he is still the head of the body, even though he is seated at his Father’s right hand, ruling in heaven over all things. So positionally Christ, the Son of God, is in heaven with his Father, but we have also observed that we are indwelt by his Holy Spirit who not only unites us with each other, but now also with him in heaven.

And so he now wants us to grasp this picture that Paul brings to the Ephesians, that because we are untied with him by his Holy Spirit, it means that we too, having been raised to new life after dying to the old, are in a sense, sharing with Christ in his role as the present king ruling over all things.

Now is this just an academic or theological nicety or does it have any practical outworking? Yes, it is far more than just a theory, it is an overall picture of how the body is supposed to work to bring about the will of God, the reign of God on the earth.

First of all this means a change of understanding. We are to see ourselves as sharing with Christ in his rule, so that, second, as we listen to him and sense and receive the revelation of His Holy Spirit, so we are led to do the things on his heart and those things will bring change on the earth.

Third, we will see these things as incomparable riches of grace, amazingly wonderful expressions of his love and mercy that come to us through his kindness, here within the body so that the body uses this grace to perform signs and wonders to bring changes on the earth. Every time you pray, every time you command in the name of Jesus, as he leads you, so his grace is released in the form of power so that things are changed on the earth, people released, people delivered, circumstances changed. Every time we bind something in his name (Mt 16:19 & 18:18) the power of the enemy will be annulled.

We have much to learn about being his servants, about wielding authority and bringing in the reign of the kingdom of God, as we experience what it means to be “seated with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus”, i.e. as we experience what it means to be part of the active body led by the head from heaven. Hallelujah!

14. A Broken Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  14. A Broken Body

Luke 22:19  And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

There is something about this phrase from Jesus, “This is my body given for you.”  I always thought it was ‘this is my body, broken for you’ but it isn’t there in the text although the language of action conveys that, as Jesus then broke the loaf and gave it to his followers. The giving that Jesus refers to must surely mean his giving himself to the will of God to die on the Cross, particularly when he goes on to speak of the cup of wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20)

There are two thoughts about the body that flow from this. First it is all about self-sacrifice. Without doubt, not only was the Cross a sacrifice of the Lamb of God (see Jn 1:29,36) for the sins of the world, but the Cross was also a picture of supreme sacrifice as Jesus’ words of anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane show (Mt 26:36-44). As we have noted earlier in these studies, Jesus came to do his Father’s will, as painful and awful as it was about to be. A willingness to die for the world was at the heart of Jesus’ mission.

For many of us ‘church’ conveys peace, comfort, nice songs or chants, liturgy, and joyful Sunday mornings but actually the attitude of willing self-sacrifice for the needs of those around us should be a characteristic of this body. Sacrifice means time, energy, work and a willingness ‘to go’, to volunteer, to be available to the Lord for whatever He wants to use us for.

The second thought that flows out of these thoughts is related to the above one which would have preferred peace and comfort and, above all, lack of change. Many of us feel upset whenever change is mooted but this loaf was broken so that it could be shared around, and that spoke of change. We have already referred to the growth factor in these studies about the body of Christ, and growth means change. There is something very intimate when a small group comes together and church life is expressed, but if it is genuine ‘life’ then the group will grow and develop and change.

Whereas in a small group it is easy to minister to one another and have words of prophecy brought, say, when the numbers grow, that is difficult to administer (though not impossible). And then someone gets a vision for a church plant and volunteers are called for to start the new plant, and people leave to do it. Uncomfortable change. We miss people and miss their contributions, but these things are necessary if the church is truly to grow. Constant ‘breaking up’ is an essential for kingdom growth.

13. A Dead & Alive Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  13. A Dead & Alive Body

Rom 8:10,11  But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

There is a point where individual and corporate concepts of the body come today in an unusual and mostly un-thought of way. We, with our individual bodies make up the corporate body that is the body of Christ, the Church, and there is something about our individual bodies that should surely impact the whole of the bigger body.

In Romans 6 to 8 the apostle Paul tackles the subject of the power of sin in the believer and we find a number of references to the life we live in our individual bodies, for example, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.” (Rom 6:12,13).

It IS humanly possible for a believer to go on sinning but everything about our encounter with the Lord works to help us counter that, so when Paul twice in these verses says, “Do not” he is instructing us to make a purposeful effort. But as he develops this in chapter 7 he shows that humanly speaking he cannot master Sin and so it is only when we come to chapter 8 that he talks about the work and life and power of the Holy Spirit who is the practical means to enable us to do what our transformed minds now want to do.

So if this is true of our individual bodies how much more must it be true of the corporate body made up of all us individuals?  What are the practical outworkings of this suggestion? First the whole picture of ‘Church’ should convey to the world a people who have been transformed and who are utterly different, not allowing any of the works of the old self-centred and godless life to be seen. So, for example, to take Paul’s prohibitions in Colossians 3, there should never ever be any sign of sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language or lying (Col 3:5-9) but instead the body should be characterized by “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,” (Col 3:12) and “love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col 3:14) Is that what we see in our local church(es) and in the Church at large? Is that the image ‘church’ conveys? If not, we have some work to do!

12. A Glorified Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  12. A Glorified Body

2 Thess 2:14   He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is an unusual concept and, I suspect, one that is foreign to many believers. Glory is a strange concept. We get it when, in the Old Testament, the glory of the Lord filled either the Tabernacle (Ex 40:34,25) or the Temple (2 Chron 5:14 & 7:1). It was an immense brightness revealing the presence of the Lord. Generally we might say it means divine splendor so in our verse above it might read, “that you might share in the divine splendor of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In his prayer before the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus used this word six times. Sometimes it was about himself: “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (Jn 17:4,5) i.e. Father I have revealed your divine splendor by what I have been doing, but I realise that has been limited so let the same splendor that I have when I am in heaven be seen by the things that are about to happen (my death, resurrection and ascension).

Sometimes it was about us: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.” (v.22) This must refer to the work of the Holy Spirit who unites us by bringing life to us all as He indwells us. In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit within us should be revealing to all onlookers the presence and divine splendor of God, by who we are and what we do. Who we are? Are people able to look at us and see something different about us, not an arrogance or self-centred piety but a humility that expresses love and goodness and is there to bring God’s love and goodness to whoever we find ourselves with, as much as they may be open to us.

What we do? We have just touched on that because it should flow out of who we are. Jesus touched on this when he taught, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) i.e. let God’s goodness and presence and divine splendor be seen through the good that the Holy Spirit inspires you to do. When we forgive, when we love, when we do good, when we bless, when we persevere, when we are patient, when we are kind, is it with such divine inspiration and empowering that people look on and wonder and say, “How can you be like that? I want what you have.” Who was the famous saint who said, “Evangelize by all means; use words if you have to.”? God’s glory is revealed more by deeds than by words (Acts 2:22 where words are not mentioned!).

11. A Body that fellowships

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ: 11. A Body that fellowships

1 John 1:7    if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.

There is something special that happens when Christians come together. It is a very different thing from what occurs when say a local club or organisation gathers. I never appreciated this so much as on one occasion when I went on a teaching trip to inner East Malaysia. The denomination we were serving made  up our itinerary and gave us plane tickets to get to various places. On one of the first legs of this journey, to cut a long story short, we ended up in a village in the interior but an interpreter had not arrived. Local church people had identified us as we got off the small plane and taken us to their village where for the first few hours all communication was by sign language.

As we sat cross legged either side of a mat covered with food, eating with these believers, I have never felt more frustrated being unable to communicate freely with these believers who I knew had years before experienced revival. Yet there was something that flowed between us, something that united us, something that was special, even though we could not speak the same language. That ‘something’ was what Christians refer to as ‘fellowship’.

Put as simply as possible “fellowship” is about sharing your life with another Christian, and it is more than merely speaking; fellowship occurs when the Holy Spirit within us communicates a special unity that we have. You can sit in the same room with another Christian, you can be at of a Bible Study or even Prayer Meeting and you can remain separate and distinct – or you can fellowship. Fellowship occurs when you open your hearts one to another and it requires openness and honesty. When there is an openness to one another, the Holy Spirit is able to bring this special sense of unity, of oneness and this is fellowship.

This is the potential of this ‘body’ that is knit together by loving relationships, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. His presence in us is a remarkable thing that so much of the time we take for granted. He brings the revelation of who we are – or who we are not. I have walked into the presence of ‘church people’ and known instantly that there was not a single Christian believer there. I remember another time, in my very earliest days after I had been born again, when I went searching for a local church and sat in the mid-week Bible study and realised that in a group of about twelve, only the minister and I were truly Christians! His presence in us can bond us or divide us. Be aware of the wonder as fellowship takes place.

10. The Interacting Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  10. The Interacting Body

1 Cor 12:27    Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

In the previous study we were saying, know yourself and be yourself, but there is an inherent danger in that and we need to confront it because, as the apostle Paul was saying to the Corinthians, we are many members, many different members, but we are still all one body. There are two things to particularly note in this area.

First, it is recognising my individuality, I also need to recognise the individuality of all the other members. So often we think, ‘if only everybody was like me life would be good’, but the truth is, they’re not! Let’s take the example of someone with evangelistic gifting. So often such a person thinks that the only thing the church should be doing is evangelism and so lays guilt on those who are not so gifted. Then you have the prayer warriors, the intercessors for whom there is nothing so important as prayer, and ‘we should all be spending all our time in prayer.’ Or there is the person with the gift of mercy who cannot see why the church is so slow in picking up on the poor and needy in and around the church. And as for those with their heads in the Bible, they bemoan the fact that the church is full of so many Bible-illiterates! And so it goes on.

What is the lesson here? Obviously, we are all different and we need to rejoice in and celebrate those differences and allow ourselves to be stirred by those with a different passion from ours. Ideally we would all be witnesses for Christ who rely on him in prayer, feed on his word and be sensitive to the needy around us (just to pick up on those passions above – there are others).

But to expand on that a bit more, the second thing is that we need to complement and support one another in our different gifting with different passions. As a church leader I always said to my people, “If you sense a direction for your gifting from God, tell us and we will support you and do whatever we can to enable you to fulfil that gifting. If it is the gift of God, then it will flourish. If it is just the enthusiasm of the moment (I thought I was called to help kids on drugs after reading the Cross and the Switchblade as a young Christian – I wasn’t!) then it will not produce fruit and sooner or later will just evaporate away.”

Instead of feeling threatened by the differences we see in people, we need to be encouraging and blessing them so that we are each able to fulfil the gifting God has given us and be fruitful in it. So often churches launch off on ‘campaigns’ without, instead, looking to see the gifting they have within the flock and encouraging and blessing that.

9. Be who God has made you to be

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  9. Be who God has made you to be

Rom 12:6    We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.

If churches have problems, one of them is that so often we try and cast everyone in the same mould. Now in one sense that is right for we are all being shaped into the likeness of Jesus (see 2 Cor 3:18) and as far as morals or ethics are concerned, that should be true, but the greater reality – and you see this in all of Creation – is that God loves diversity.

The apostle Paul touched on this in his famous chapter on the different parts of the body – and we will consider that more fully in the next meditation – when he speaks of us as different parts of the body: The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” (1 Cor 12:12) and he goes on in his analogy to speak of the foot, the hand, the eye, the ear and he goes on, “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Cor 12:18,19)

Note, “God has arranged.” The Lord gifts us, He gives us different abilities according to His grace (His Holy Spirit’s enduing with power to act in specific ways). Regular readers will know one of my favourite verses in the New Testament is, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10) We are what we are because God (through Jesus reigning at his Father’s right hand) through His Spirit, has brought us into being with different personalities, different gifts, abilities, desires etc.

Writer Gary Chapman in his “The Five Love Languages” suggests our different preferences for the way we show or receive love, or there is Patrick Morley’s, “The Six Worship Languages” that goes right back to Gordon MacDonald’s “Six leading Instincts of the Soul”, which is opened up even more by Gary Thomas’s “Sacred Pathways: Discover your Soul’s Path to God”. All of these writers grasp at the same thing – we are all different. (This has even been taken into ‘Learning Styles’ although this has been questioned by some).

Perhaps a personal application: the Bible thrills me, I come alive with it. Prophecy and preaching bless and thrill me. Worship, I long to go deeper with a greater reality. Prayer, I’m limited. Evangelism, I love sharing with those who want to know and although I have brought a number to the Lord, I grieve that it is so few and long to be gifted, but I am not. So how about you? What thrills you in the Christian life? Build on that. What gives you a buzz? Develop it.

8. A Network of Love

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  8. A Network of Love

Eph 4:16    From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

I wonder if you found an unbeliever and asked them to give you one word that described the Christian Church, what it would be? I fear some might say, isolationists, arrogant, bigoted, hypocrites, and if that is so it simply suggests we have a lot of work to do in changing ourselves, changing our churches and changing the perception of those around us.

THE word that should come to mind is love or loving. We might say faith but the world around us probably doesn’t understand what that word really means, but love is much easier to understand. When Jesus came to Lazarus’s tomb, he wept and Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (Jn 11:36) Jesus’ tears signified to the Jews at least, love. (They may have been more for the effects of sin bringing death and mourning than for Lazarus who he knew he was going to raise.)

This is the point: love is expressive. The apostle John built a whole teaching on this: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 Jn 3:16) Jesus dying on the Cross was a demonstration of his love for us (see also Jn 3:16). John followed on, “And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:16,17) i.e. if we have needy people among us, love says, “What can we do to help?” Love doesn’t let brothers or sisters struggle on their own, love reaches out to bless and to help. To simply say, “I will pray for you,” is inadequate.

Every member of the Trinity expresses themselves in love. “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and that Jn 3:16 verse speaks of God’s love. Jesus came to express the Father’s love and did it by healing people, delivering people and accepting sinners. When the Holy Spirit moves, He expresses the love of the Godhead, therefore when we minister, presumably under the anointing, direction and power of the Holy Spirit, everything we do should be an expression of love. When we encourage one another, when we speak words of prophecy over one another, when we pray over one another, do those on the receiving end feel loved? I have witnessed people praying for other people, maybe for healing, maybe for other things, and I have felt, “All you have done is left that person feel condemned and a failure.” Think how you would feel if you were being prayed over, how would you want to feel? Loved! We have work to do, even as we share the Gospel.

7. A World-Serving Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  7. A World-Serving Body

Gal 6:10   Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

There is among many Christians, I fear, little concern for the fallen world outside the church apart from it being fodder for the Gospel, and many Christian lives are taken up simply with Christian meetings, and yet the truth is we are called to be salt and light (Mt 5:13-16) and you cannot be that unless you are actively involved with the world.

A number of years ago the Lord impacted me with the above verse which had always seemed to me to speak of the church – the family of believers – and yet the call is to “do good to all people,” and if that wasn’t enough the apostle Paul also wrote, “always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.” (1 Thess 5:15). There are Christians who believe God hates the world, hates all sinful unbelievers until they repent and turn back to Him, but this is still His world and there are still many who will turn to Him that we cannot see at the present.

In that most famous gospel verse, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life,” (Jn 3:16) the indication is that ‘world’ means everyone. God cannot stop loving because He IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16). Jesus’ example should convince us. He came and healed thousands, many of who selfishly walked away and disregarded him and some even cried against him – yet he still healed them! I have known God healing unbelievers when I’ve prayed – and they are still unbelievers (for the time being) – but our acts of love and goodness are to glorify God (Mt 5:16) and that happens when the unbeliever suddenly sees and becomes a believer. Love opens hearts.

Perhaps one of the most powerful commands from the Lord in this respect came through Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylonia, people who had been carried away by Nebuchadnezzar and apparently had no future as God’s people in his land: “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” (Jer 29:7) I find that absolutely remarkable. Look to bless this pagan place where you have been taken as an exile – yes, that means all these Babylonians – and even pray for them and as you do that I will bless you.

Now this has to have a practical outworking. Get involved. Join groups that are not run by Christians, be salt and light in that group. Seek to bless the community by your active presence in it; become a volunteer where volunteers are needed. Ask the Lord to show you ways that you can be part of your local community and how you can bless it.

6. A Self-Serving Body

Meditations on the Body of Christ:  6. A Self-Serving Body

1 Cor 14:12  So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.

In the previous meditation we focused in the ‘serving function’ of the body of Christ, the Church, and particularly on the upward serving, the serving God, seeking to do His will. But there is what I also referred to as an ‘inward serving’, serving the body itself.

The apostle Paul wrote, describing the function of the ministry gifts, gifts of people to the Church, that their goal was to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:12,13) Now that is interesting because when we observe the outworking of those ministries, apostle, prophet etc. they so often involve, in our minds, developing the church  by adding to it and so the apostle Paul was not only an apostle, he was also a leading evangelist, but having done that all his efforts went into building up the church and establishing strong and vibrant local congregations.  We will go on to consider that outward serving which involves evangelism, which can take many forms, but having brought people to Christ, the role of those ministries is to build up the church to the church actually functions as it should becoming a more and more able vehicle for bringing the love of God to the world and seeing many more added (or at least that is how it is intended to be).

So how do you and I  go about building up this body, this local expression that we are part of. May I make some simple starting suggestions.  First of all, be with the church when it meets on Sundays, at it’s various other meetings when it is possible to bless one another and fellowship together. (We’ll talk about fellowship as a separate subject in a later study). Second, set your attitude to be one of loving acceptance of all the others in your local church (we’ll talk about practical love in another study). Let there be no divisions in your thinking between you and anyone else in your church. The person you find difficult, determine to make time to be with them, to get to know them better, have coffee with them, share with them, change. Third, encourage one another.  When others have led in some way, and you’ve been blessed, tell them so and thank them. Always look to say something positive about others. People ARE often what we declare them to be. If we speak badly of them, they will appear bad to us, when we speak well of them, we will observe a change in our thinking and in who they actually are. Bless them and be blessed.