5. A Serving Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  5. A Serving Body

Eph 4:12  to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

Some of these meditations are bound to overlap as we mention various things and then build more on them in later studies. We have at least twice spoken about Jesus’ body that was formed when the Son left heaven and was born on earth with a human body, come to do the will of God. Now it is easy to speak of ‘doing the will of God’ but what does that mean?

Well if we take an earlier verse from Ephesians it might shed light on this: For 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) Now if we changed the words, “to do good works” for “to do the will of God” or even “to serve the purposes of God,” we have a variety of expressions that all point in the same direction but what they do is link the concept of ‘doing the will of God’ with the idea or action or service.

Expanding on the point we made from the beginning, the whole point of Jesus having a human body was to enable him to interact with other human beings to bring changes to their ‘fallen’ lives – which often involved healing but also, essentially, brought about changes of mind, attitude and heart so that they came into the arena of God’s kingdom. As he did this, so he was working out the will of the Godhead, planned from before the foundation of the world. It was a one-man strategy to touch and change the lives of others so that they in turn could touch and change the lives of even more. Thus today there are millions upon millions whose lives have been transformed and form ‘the Church’ and (hopefully) express the kingdom of God.

We will in the next two studies consider how this ‘service is both inward and outward but for the moment we remain focused on how it is upward. We are what we are and we do what we do because of the Godhead. It is all because of what the Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed would be the plan to redeem fallen mankind, a mankind that they saw even before creating us, that would fall because of free will giving way to temptation, and yet free will was essential if love was to operate, under girding everything. Without it we would not truly be human beings, capable of freely receiving and giving love – or indeed rejecting it and withholding it.

And so here we are today, with free will, drawn by the love of the Godhead, to express that love back as we respond to them and do what they put before us, prompting us, guiding us, inspiring us and empowering us to do the same works Jesus’ single body did (Jn 14:12).

4. A Growing Body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  4. A Growing Body

Eph 4:15,16  we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body… grows

Many people don’t like change but growth means change and that is what the teaching of the New Testament expects. Jesus taught, The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.” (Mt 13:31,32) His expectation was that the kingdom of heaven or ‘kingdom of God’ as it is often referred to, the expression of the reign of God in heaven and on earth, would grow and become big. The Church is the expression of the kingdom on earth and it has indeed grown to be the largest spiritual body on the earth.

How does it grow? It shares the Gospel and people respond, are born again and are added to the body, the Church. A local church that is not growing, clearly does not have the life of God flowing through it. We may say we are living in hard materialistic days – and we are – but nothing has changed in that respect and when Jesus expressed his Father’s reign, people flocked to him.

To the Colossians, the apostle Paul wrote of “the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.(Col 2:19) Ligaments and sinews hold the various members together and enable them to fulfil their function. So what holds us together as individual members of this body? (i) Loving relationships that (ii) enable fellowship to occur and (iii) allow the Spirit to flow in and through us. This verse comes as a warning to the lone Christian who doesn’t like ‘church’ (and there are many today) but who forgets that they ARE the church and they will grow as an individual and enable the body to grow, only when they are with it.

The writer to the Hebrew understood this when he wrote, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb 10:25) If we are to grow numerically and grow in character and grow in ministry, then we need to be together so that fellowship (real heart and spirit encounter) can take place and we can be taught and challenged and encouraged (as the verse above says) and be built up. Part of growing is to become strong, strong in our faith, strong in our witness, strong in our ministry. This are all facets of growth and that is Jesus’ expectation for his body. Are we growing as individuals and is our local church growing; if not, what’s wrong?

3. Christ, the head

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ: 3. Christ the head

Col 1:18  And he is the head of the body, the church;

The idea of Christ being the head of his body, the Church, is a  fairly obvious one when you think about it and we also find it in Eph 4:15,16 and 5:23,  and Col 2:19 as well as our verse above. Because it only comes from the apostle Paul and then only four times, we might think it is of little consequence – and I wonder how many times you have heard this preached upon? But if we are being presented with a picture of the church as the present body of Christ, then a reminder of who or what motivates this body is important.

We have already noted that the body is energised by the Holy Spirit, but the direction for activity of the body – as with any human body must come from the head – must come from Jesus who, we are told in Scripture, is seated at his Father’s right hand in heaven reigning in the midst of his enemies over the last times. Your human body and mine, functions with the aid of the brain (in the head) and the heart. If either stop functioning, your body stops living. The head brings purpose and direction to what the body does.

Now is this just an academic point of theology or are there real, genuine practical outworkings of it. Well Jesus laid down an important principle when, speaking to the Jews, he said, My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” (Jn 5:17) This principle starts by suggesting that God is always at work on His earth (we may not see Him and we may not discern His activity but that does not mean He is not doing that). But then Jesus carried on, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (Jn 5:19).

If we link that to verses we quoted in the first study, we see something significant: “when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… Then I said, `Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God.” (Heb 10:5-7) Jesus is also constantly at work, following the desires of the Father, to do His will. He did it then through one human body and he does it now by millions of human bodies all linked together by his Spirit and he energises them by his Spirit to do the will of the Father.

Now the crucial question comes: do I as an individual member of this body, and my local church as a bigger expression within this body, seek out the will of God and respond to the head to be a working member of this body today? (Mt 6:33, Rom 12:1,2) If not, then our lives are a pale reflection of what they could be.

2. Spirit Energised

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  2. Spirit Energised

Jn 14:16,17  I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth….you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Second to the Atonement, I suggest this doctrine of the Holy Spirit and us, is the most important doctrine of Christian salvation. Jesus hinted at it and then we saw it with, no doubt limited understanding, on the Day of Pentecost, but it was down to the apostle Paul to spell out the fact that, whereas in the Old Testament times the Spirit came down and empowered specific individuals, now He comes upon and indwells every believer. In the previous study we noted, “you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16 etc.)

To explain another facet of the wonder of this, he said to the Romans, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” (Rom 8:9a) and in case they were not sure about that, he added, “And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Rom 8:9b). i.e. to be a Christian means to have the Holy Spirit within you. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is spoken of as ‘the Spirit of Christ’ or the ‘Spirit of God’ as we’ve just seen in this verse 9, but He is the same Holy Spirit.

In speaking thus, Paul is only taking Jesus’ own teaching a little further: “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again,” (Jn 3:3) and “no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit,” (Jn 3:5) and “So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3:8) Becoming a Christian is a work of the Spirit who then indwells us and is our source of power, guidance and direction.

Now I suspect that this teaching that is prevalent through the New Testament comes as no surprise to most of us, but I wonder about the reality of it when it comes to everyday life? Life presents us with opportunity after opportunity where we need wisdom to know how to act, how to proceed, what to do. How often, I wonder, do we just plough on and do our own thing without any reference to Him, how often do we seek Him for both power and enabling and wisdom and direction?  When it comes to church services  – and I mention them because they are the corporate expression of this body we are considering – what difference would there be if the Holy Spirit did not exist? How many of our services are so preplanned and fixed that the Holy Spirit has no space to move?

We are talking about the very presence of God Himself indwelling this body, the Church, but how much and how often do we allow Him to express Himself, or is that a completely alien concept?

1. The Church, his body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  1. The Church, his body

Eph 1:22,23   the church, which is his body

Some today may take this concept for granted, but for others it is either new or foreign. I can remember the first person I heard teaching on ‘the body’, an itinerant preacher called Campbell McAlpine, and it was back in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Since then, through the charismatic movement in those same decades, its teaching filled out some more, and yet it is, I believe, as relevant today, if not more so in a day when frequently it appears ‘church’ or ‘religion’, that fills so many TV channels, is presented so often by suited men in expensive settings, conveying a religion that is ‘success’ and ‘try harder’ orientated, a poor reflection of the wonder of what is conveyed in the New Testament.

Perhaps we try too hard and on the world’s terms, and then wonder why in the West at least so many denominations continue to diminish with their obituaries being prophesied by the pollsters. The church is not big buildings or big organisations, it is not TV stations or radio studios, it is not individual ‘big people’ with big incomes and ‘big ministries’, it is all the believers who, corporately, and to use the concept we are going to follow and meditate upon from the New Testament, are referred to as ‘the body of Christ’. In fact, as we go on in the days ahead, we will see that every single, humble believer is a member or part of this ‘body’.

Now right from the outset, let’s state what will become obvious as we look in detail at what the New Testament has to say, that the picture of ‘a body’ is used to convey thoughts about the life, action and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are two other concepts that are used to refer to the church in the New Testament. The first is ‘a temple’: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16 etc.) and that is all about revealing the glory of God. The other picture is of a bride (Rev 19:7,8, 21:2) which is all about being united with Christ at the end.

But the concept of the ‘body’ is all about doing: “when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… Then I said, `Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God.” (Heb 10:5-7) The ‘doing’ is the will of God. We see it in the Gospels as, through one single human body, Jesus served the will of God as he brought in the kingdom of God on earth, and then the teaching of US being his ongoing body being worked out is seen in the rest of the New Testament. Put aside all thoughts of buildings, organizations etc. YOU, the believer, are part of this body.