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.

11. Gifts Change

Meditations in Romans : 11 :  Gifts are for Change

Rom  1:11-13   I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

While we stay with these verses we need to focus on something different, that we have only made brief reference to and which deserves greater consideration; it is about the impartation of gifts and the harvest brought thereby. Paul’s desire to come to the Christians in Rome is partly motivated by a desire to come and “impart to you some spiritual gift.” It is not until he comes to chapter 12 do we see further references to ‘spiritual gifts’. For his greatest exposition on such gifts we need to go to 1 Corinthians 12-14 but all we need say here is that when Paul uses the phrase he is quite clear that he is speaking about some particular manifestation of the Holy Spirit that is used primarily to build up the church. Now some people are very negative about spiritual gifts, more I think out of fear and the recognition that we are talking about a godly supernatural dimension which ‘naturally’ we are unable to operate in. For those of us who like to keep the Christian faith purely in the intellectual realm, the activities of the Holy Spirit, especially when in harmony with us, are particularly threatening.

So Paul is aware that he, as an apostle, has the ability to pray over others at God’s directing and impart these gifts or release these gifts in them. He sees that these gifts will help the Christians in Rome and make them strong. Strength comes when we are flowing in harmony with God’s Holy Spirit, for He is the source of all strength. He is also aware that as he comes with the faith that God has given him, it is an encouragement to the church. Looking back on my own life, I don’t know how many times I have been encouraged and strengthened by being in the presence of others who are gifted by God. Such supernatural gifting helps us realise that this is not merely about intellectual assent; it is about living in relationship with the all-powerful God who is real and who brings His power to bear in our everyday lives as we allow Him to.

Everything about this subject challenges the concept of Christianity being a passive and static faith that is all about just believing certain things. That is where the crusading atheists of the twenty first century are blind, for they do not realise that it is not merely about arguing about specific beliefs. They don’t realise that they are having to combat the living experiences of God that Christians have. It is impossible to explain away the changes that have taken place in my life on purely psychological grounds. It is impossible to explain away the many experiences of God that I have had on purely intellectual or rational grounds.

If only we did have such a thing as time travel then such silly atheists could travel back and watch and investigate the incredible works of Jesus while he was on earth, and then the things that happened to the early Christians as recorded in Acts. Seeing such simple and naïve people doing the impossible again and again would truly upset some of these carping critics. Sadly today most of them seem to lack the integrity that would go and investigate the millions of changed lives that can be observed in those who have encountered Jesus today. Travel the globe and you encounter millions of such people whose lives have been dramatically changed by encountering the living God and His Son Jesus Christ. Where are the other world religions that testify to such changes? Where are the millions of atheists who can testify to their lives being dramatically changed when the heard the good news of atheism, who found a new power source flowing in them that set them free from addictions and bad habits and bad behaviour when they received that good news. We can testify to such things because we have encountered the forgiveness, the love and power of the living God and we know that these are the things that have changed us.

Now for Paul it was a two-way street; it wasn’t merely about him, as an apostle, imparting something of a supernatural dimension to those Christians he encountered. Oh no! What he imparted had an effect on the lives of those Christians and they would thus bring forth ‘a harvest’ or a crop of fruits if you like. When Paul speaks about a harvest he surely means first of all a harvest of salvation of people coming to Christ and giving their lives to him and being born again. That is surely the first ‘harvest’ that he refers to. But there is also the fruit that comes forth in those lives and this goes back to what we were saying earlier.

The Christian faith is not static or passive, it is all about change. It is not about turning up at church once a week, it is about a radical life change that starts when we repent and surrender our lives to Christ and he forgives us and puts his Spirit within us. It is that power that changes us as we allow Him to work in us. Paul was able to write to the Galatians about the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ or the outworking or changes that the Holy Spirit brings in us when we come to Christ. He listed some of those fruits there: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22,23). There will be a steady growth of all these things in the true Christian – and a lot more. It is a life of change, the New Testament declares, a life of becoming more Christ-like. That can only come about as we submit ourselves to the Lord and He, by His Spirit, empowers us and brings about the work of change. That is what Christian leadership is all about – about bringing change to lives through the direction and power of God’s Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!

34. A Growing Body

Ephesians Meditations No.34

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.

In the previous meditation we started thinking about the concept of growth in the Christian life. Our verse today continues that concept but adds a crucial aspect to it. It may be helpful here to recap a little to see where Paul has come from. Back in chapter 3 he spoke how he wanted us to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,” (3:18) so that the outworking would, “to him be glory in the church.” (3:21). He then went on to exhort them to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (4:3), also explaining that Christ has given gifts of ministries, “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up,” (4:12), so that “we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (4:15).

So it is now, that he starts, “From him…” (4:16). This has all been about the ‘body’ which is the church, of which Christ is the head. Now here is the crucial addition to all that he has said so far: growth of the church depends on the relationship with the head. This verse speaks about the church which “grows and builds itself up” i.e. there is addition to the body (grows) and that new, bigger body is then to be strengthened (builds). That is what is supposed to be happening to the church; it is supposed to be getting bigger and bigger and stronger and stronger.

If you are of the mind that only looks for a diminishing church in the last days, remember Jesus parable about the mustard seed: “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.” (Mt 31,32). No, the call is to expect Jesus’ rule in and through his church to grow. But note in all this that there is a responsibility on the church to build itself up! Now that ‘building’ or strengthening will come about as the individual members relate properly to Christ and to each other. When Paul was counseling the Corinthian church he said, “Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.” (1 Cor 14:12). To the Thessalonians he said, “encourage one another and build each other up.” (1 Thess 5:11). Building or strengthening comes through encouragement. Can we ask ourselves do we encourage others in our part of the local church? Do we actively seek to build up the local church by building up individuals? Are people, blessed, encouraged and built up after they have encountered us?

So there are two concepts here: growth (numerically) and strengthening, and both of them come about when we are rightly related to the head and to the other members of the body. Remember, Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” (Jn 15:5) I quite like the older versions that speak of ‘abiding’ in Christ rather than just ‘remaining’ in him. It speaks of living with, sharing with, being in harmony with, him. If Christ is merely a figure from the past, we will not have this sort of living relationship with him, but it is this sort of relationship that brings this flow of life that produces change and fruit in us.

But let’s now think about rightly relating to one another. Paul’s analogy is not easy: the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament.” Now whatever else that means it speaks of each member being linked to, joined to all other members. What are the ‘supporting ligaments’? I’m not sure I know. Perhaps it refers to the mutual faith in Christ that we have, the beliefs from the Scriptures that we live by, and certainly the love of Christ that flows between us. These things, surely, bind us together.

But there’s a sting in the tail of this verse today: “as each part does its work.” Wow! Now don’t try and escape from this.  Remember what Paul said, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27). YOU are a part of the body of Christ that is the church if you are a Christian, and the body will grow and be built up if YOU do YOUR part!  So, here’s the crucial question: are you doing your part? It’s no good complaining about the state of the church if you are not doing your part with the gifts and abilities and love that God gives you. Passivity is not an option! Is it any wonder that some churches are in a poor state when the members see ‘the minister’ as the one who is to do all the stuff and they can just sit there in the pews and absorb! No, a thousand times, no! That is not the church that Jesus desires!

I realise we haven’t focused on one word in our verse today – love.the whole body….. grows and builds itself up in love.” It is love that builds the church. If you have anything against a brother or sister in your church may I remind you that “love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet 4:8). There is no room for division, dissension, criticism, gossip or anything that pulls down the others in the church. Jesus command was that we Love each other as I have loved you.(Jn 15:12).

These verses that we have been covering recently speak very strongly to the modern church which is so often so very far from the Biblical model – get it together, obey what God has said, start being what Jesus wants. If you nothing else do what these verses in these two chapters have been saying.