I. God’s has a specific plan for the Body of Christ.
A. The church is an organism; not an institution (1 Cor 12) (Gary Inrig, Life in His Body, Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1975, p. 30). The ‘secret’ of the body is that all parts share life together.
The members of the body possess supernatural connectedness by mystical union with Christ through the Holy Spirit (Ray Stedman, Body Life, Glendale: Regal Books, 1972, p. 25). Institutionalism and formalism tend to organize the church in such a way that the very nature of the body as a living organism is denied in practice.
Discussion: What difference does that make in practice that the church is a living organism? Why does the church tend to revert to behaving like an institution instead of an organism?
Discussion: How does our commitment to the gospel keep the true organic nature of the church in view? How does the gospel help check the drift toward ‘redefining’ the church as made up merely of programs, activities, and teachings?
B. The body of Christ is the corporate expression of the grace of Christ. The gifts in the body at work are each a facet of Christ’s character reproduced and made visible (John MacArthur, The Body Dynamic, Victor, 1996, p. 101).
1.) God intends that the local church be a corporate display of His glory and wisdom (Eph 3:10-11; Jn 13:34-35; Jn 17:21-23) (Mark Dever and Paul Alexander, The Deliberate Church, Crossway Books, 2005, p. 26).
2.) God’s character is known by both the truth of the gospel and by the church’s organic union with Christ as her members function in harmony—showing collectively the character of Christ.
3.) God bids His people to enter His plot; His story—to be part of the big picture (Lane/Tripp, How People Change, New Growth Press, 2006, pp. 93-94).
4.) The church is a medium of revelation—revealing the character of God. It does so ONLY when it incarnates the disposition of Jesus. Only then will nations and angels behold in it the manifold wisdom of God. Wooing, winsome, conquering grace is a function of the church manifesting the qualities of her Head (Charles Jefferson, The Building of the Church, New York: Macmillan, 1913, p. 154).
5.) “Ministries have been given by Christ . . . to enable the body of Christ to attain its ultimate goal, that is, ‘the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ’” (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, p. 317).
C. The fellowship of the members of the body is proof of the divine power of Jesus—“that they may be one. . . “ (Jn 17:21-23). The unity of the brethren is evidence to the world that Christ came from heaven. The Lord declares His ministry to be that of binding men together by indissoluble bonds (Jefferson, p. 48-52).
Discussion: How are these indissoluble bonds made visible?
Discussion: How strong is our desire to get to know our brethren? Why is it often weak? How is our desire to know God a desire which parallels the desire to know our brethren?
II. The members of the body are vitally connected to Christ and to one another for the purpose of fellowship (1 Jn 1:1-10).
A. Justification by faith (an alien righteousness imputed to us) is the basis for true community. Without justification, we could not know our brother—intimacy and transparency would be blocked by ego. But Christ opens the way to our brother. He opens up peace, love, acceptance, and service. Christ alone is the source of all unity; He is the ground and strength of our fellowship (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1954, pp. 23-24, 30. 39).
B. The purpose of the church (to reveal the manifold wisdom of God Eph 3:10) demands: a.) that the individual members are connected to Christ, and b.) that God’s blueprint for the body be followed (Inrig, p. 11).
Discussion: How does God’s purpose for the church absolutely rule out a ‘spectator’ role for believers? What message is a church sending when attendees are treated as ‘consumers?’
C. The life of the church is a group of individuals who have life in Christ in common. The members are united together in the reality of the indwelling Spirit. According to 1 Corinthians 12:7, “each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
Discussion: In 12:25 Paul joins the theme of the diversity in the body to the goals of unity and mutual care. Explain the connection the Apostle is making.
1.) The presence of the Spirit gives the church a supernatural dynamic which is unique among all human organizations (Robert Saucy, The Church in God’s Program, Chicago: Moody Press, 1972, pp. 21-22, 27).
2.) The term “members of one another” implies interdependent cooperation among believers (Rom 12:5; Eph 4:25; 1 Cor 12:21-25).
3.) Christ took the separation; the ‘disrelatedness’ of our sin, and He gave us the right relatedness of true community in its place (Land/Tripp, pp. 79-80). In redemption He gave us His own right-relatedness to the Holy Trinity.
D. The church is a true community of people who are committed to doing spiritual good to others. This is how God intends the body to function (Dever and Alexander, p. 41).
Discussion: How can we be more deliberate in getting together with another person for the purpose of his or her spiritual good?
Why does the individual believer experience an impoverished spirit when he or she discontinues mutual edification in his relationships in the body of Christ?
Discussion: Describe as precisely as you can what growing believers must do in order to solve the problem described here by Powlison: Countless counseling crises occur because people don’t know how to get in touch with the living Lord Jesus; therefore, believers ought to labor in love to more fully connect other believers to Christ. (David Powlison in C. John Miller’s, Outgrowing the Ingrown Church,Zondervan, 1986, p. 169).
III. The corporate function of the body is gospel-driven and Christ-dependent.
A. True fellowship involves translating vertical fellowship with the Lord into horizontal fellowship with the brethren (1 Cor 1:9) (MacArthur, p. 115).
B. The body is only healthy when its members are in subjection to Christ its Head and are responding to His commands under the loving rule of His Word—only then is she functioning properly (Saucy, p. 29).
C. The body is lavishly supplied with all its needs for life, health, growth, and unity as it holds fast to its Head. The individual members of the body then function as channels of spiritual nutrition in relation to one another that the body might grow “with a growth that is from God” (Col 2:19) (Saucy, pp. 30-31).
D. We need a better understanding of the gospel in order to get closer to Christ. The church is weak on the present benefits of Christ’s work because the church is weak on the gospel. Only when the church is immersed in the gospel will she truly begin to see Christ as her ‘Source Person’ for all she needs (Lane/Tripp, pp. 4, 6, 13, 238-240).
Discussion: Explain how being ‘immersed in the gospel’ draws us closer to Christ and gives us true views of Him as our life.
E. We need an incisive awareness of the gospel’s implications for corporate life together the gospel must enjoy a central position in the church so as to govern the way the church functions. Only then the church will gain traction (Dever and Alexander, pp. 21-22). God concentrates His power in the gospel, so rather than thinking up new methodologies and programs; let us turn to the gospel for our oneness, walk, warfare, worship, worldview, witness, and wholeness.
Discussion: Respond to this statement, “When the gospel ceases to be central in a church that church will, as a matter of course, be less hospitable to struggling broken people.”
IV. Christ is building His church and He commands every member to build with Him.
A. To edify is to build up. We are commanded to please our fellow believer so as to “build him up” (Rom 15:2). The fact that we are members one of another in a living organism is not grasped by most church members. Let all be done with a view to building up the body—if we are to be pleasing to Christ we must be intentional and we must be always conscious of what Christ is building (Jefferson, p. 29).
1.) Only a true disciple of the Lord can build the church. Discussion: Why is this so?
2.) True fellowship is a vital means of grace; the Bible alone cannot make you strong and bring you to maturity. God’s grace flows through social bonds—the brotherhood is the atmosphere in which the gospel truths blaze (Jefferson, pp. 70-72).
Discussion: Describe how close fellowship with other believers who are saved by grace causes the gospel truths to “blaze” in our minds and hearts.
B. In order to build up our brethren, we must be deliberate about doing spiritual good to our brother (Dever and Alexander, p. 37). Are you deliberate about pursuing discipleship relationships? Are you deliberate in seeking to be mentored as well as to mentor?
Discussion: What decisions would you have to make in order to put yourself under the teaching of the mature as well as seek to help those who are less mature than you are? Do you think that building up of the brethren is possible without making these decisions?
C. The consumer-spectator mindset cuts the nerve of being “others oriented.” God is calling His people to be outward oriented in order to draw the lost to Himself.
1.) Believers are to bear one another’s burdens, to build up one another (pointing out evidences of grace), and to encourage one another. We are to spur on our brethren to greater faithfulness (Dever and Alexander, 197-199).
Discussion: How can you be more deliberate about spiritual conversations intended for the good of your brethren? What are some specific ways you can fulfill the command in Hebrews 10:24-25 in your conversations?
2.) It is rare for church members to embrace the mentality set forth in Ephesians 4:12. Paul tells us in that passage that the members of Christ’s body are to do the work of service of building up the body. That means that church members are responsible for the major part of the transmission of the transforming Word of God to one another. This activity, carried out by its members, is to be the normal function of the church!
Discussion: What would have to happen in order for our thinking to shift from the pulpit as the major source of the Word to our conversations with other believers as the major source of the Word?
D. What is desperately needed in the body is the ability to visualize an effective church leadership which is compatible with the priesthood of all believers (Bruce Stabbert, The Team Concept, Tacoma: Hegg Bros. Printing, 1982, p. 181). The following elements are useful in shifting our thinking away from institutionalism back to Christ’s pattern for the body:
1.) The decentralization of ministry forces us to be creative. Believers encouraged to think of ministry in a decentralized fashion (as Christ-focused and body-driven with every member a minister) tends to continue the release of creative possibilities (Frank Tillapaugh, Unleashing the Church, Ventura: Regal Books, 1982).
2.) Lasting motivation for ministry does not come from the exhortations of church leadership. It comes from being involved in frontline ministry—the ministry to which God has called a particular person (Tillapaugh, p. 131).
3.) Shared leadership is the priesthood of each believer in action. When everyone in the body is freed and released to pursue his or her calling; THEN it becomes the responsibility of the entire body to discern what God is doing instead of solely the leaders (Tillapaugh, p. 114-115).
4.) According to Ephesians 4:7-16, the body can be trusted to produce what it needs. Paul describes the body’s function as a complex, delicate, interdependent working of all the parts. Christ as Head of the body can be trusted to work through the body in such a supernatural way that the body will produce what it needs—just as a physical body produces speed, strength, endurance when a particular demand arises (Tillapaugh, p. 77-78).
Discussion: How would the dynamic above be manifested in the development of ‘home grown’ leaders instead of looking outside the church to hire ‘professionals?’
5.) The body has specialized parts capable of ministering to every kind of person (military, college, homeless, artist, CEO, prisoner, etc.). Church members can do these ministries as a functioning part of the local church body (Tillapaugh, p. 23-24).
6.) Each believer must be taught and equipped so that his mindset is characterized by the following: “My brothers and sisters need the ministry that Christ died to accomplish through me” (Stabbert, p. 182).
V. The believer’s sanctification is to take place within the context of the body of Christ.
A. The Christian community (the local church) is the context for change. Individual redemption is played out in our relationships (Lane/Tripp, pp. 76-79).
Discussion: Are we in the habit of thinking about our relationships as the context for sanctifying change? Why or why not?
1.) Relationships reveal character. Relationships amplify what we are. Relationships involve risk—we risk being offended and offending. The community is a mirror our self-absorption shows up. Community is the very thing we need to move us out of self-centeredness. The corporate body is needed to make me like Christ (Lane/Tripp, pp. 83-86).
Discussion: Why is the body of Christ needed to make me like Christ?
2.) There is substantial sanctifying change in individuals within the community of faith as the gospel is applied to friends and family. When the gospel is applied to our relationships and to our affections, it pulls us above our preoccupation with personal happiness to enjoy God’s blessings in Christ and to share those blessings with others (Lane/Tripp, p. 251).
Discussion: What has to happen in our thinking for us to regard ourselves as God’s chosen ‘conduit’ of care, grace, love, and truth to our brethren?
B. Maturity is a mutual process achieved by interdependent ministry in the body. We are gifted by God for the common good (1 Cor 12:7). This is not a matter of terminology—the issue at hand turns upon the very nature of the church (Inrig, p. 45).
1.) Our fellow believers are agents of our change. God’s plan for our maturity operates through human instruments (MacArthur, p. 73).
Discussion: What kind of attitude and what kind of action is needed if we are to be willing to learn from each other that we might grow together into full maturity in Christ?
2.) Genuine ministry is slavery to Christ and to one another lived out (Saucy, p. 131). The very nature of the church is to serve God (C. John Miller, p. 45). Read Galatians 5:13-14. What is the proper use of our freedom in Christ? What is the misuse of our freedom in Christ?
VI. Every believer is a steward of God’s grace.
A. Read 1 Peter 4:7-11. We are “stewards of God’s grace,” we are to care for something that we do not own. We are accountable to the Lord for our care of what is entrusted to us.
Discussion: Why is so important to know what one’s spiritual gift is? Is it a sin not to exercise one’s spiritual gift? Why or why not? How does the neglect of our spiritual gift impact our sanctification?
B. Why does the unity of the body depend upon a deep and practical appreciation of the diversity of gifts in the body? (See 1 Cor 12:14-31). Explain why the diversity of the body contributes to the unity of the body according to 1 Corinthians 12 (O’Brien, p. 317).
Discussion: Does this appreciation of the body’s diversity also mean that we ought to be willing to be on the receiving end as others exercise their gifts?
Discussion: If every member is a minister; then explain the relationship between being a steward and being a minister.
What kind of price would you have to pay for deeper involvement in the body?
VII. What New Testament metaphors describe the nature and function of the church?
A. The church is a “Temple made up of living stones” (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-10).
1.) “Living stones being built together” clearly communicates the communal nature of the church. Each stone is faceted and fitted for close contact and a perfect fit in relation to the other stones in the building—each niche is filled and each stone is adequately fitted for it by “the measure of Christ’s gift” (Eph 4:7) (Saucy, p. 35).
2.) The living stones are “framed together in the Lord” into an abode (habitation of God). Each believer is a temple individually (1 Cor 6:19), and collectively.
3.) The living stones comprise a royal and holy priesthood (1 Pet 2:9). The believer’s primary sacrifice is himself (Rom 12:1-2; Heb 13:15-16; Phil 2:17). We cannot truthfully offer sacrifices to God without also serving our fellow brother, sharing our goods, and building up the community (Saucy, pp. 35-42, 95).
Discussion: Explain why the essence of worship is giving our selves back to God without reservation. Explain how this is carried out in the body of Christ.
B. The church is a body with Christ as its Head (Eph 4:7-16). Every member of the body is ruled by Christ and nourished by Christ so that the growth from Christ is mediated through particular persons (O’Brien, p. 315).
1.) Describe the way interdependence operates in vv. 11-15.
2.) According to vv. 15-16 what contributions are being made by each individual member?
3.) Paul stresses that LOVE is the indispensable means of building up the body. It is only in love that the body increases, and it is only in love that true Christian ministry will contribute to the building of the body (4:16). The spiritually gifted community is not only distinguished by the spiritual gifts through which the Spirit’s energy flows, but also the community is marked by the divine nature. Therefore love becomes the criterion for assessing the church’s true growth (O’Brien, p. 316).
4.) Love (agape) is not merely a heart sentiment. LOVE is action. It makes an industrious worker who delights in making the sacrifices needed to build up the body. Love makes a persevering worker. Our love to the brethren is ‘reflexive’—it is motivation coming from sheer grateful love to Christ (Roger Carswell, Growing through Encouragement, Wales: Bryntirion Press, 1997, p. 18-19).
Discussion: Are you in the habit of thinking about love as a sentiment and not as action in building up the body? Do you regard your sanctification and maturity as tied to the contributions made by the members of the body? Why or why not?
Discussion: Locate several passages in the N.T. which describe how believers are to relate to one another in a caring, encouraging, and edifying way.
Discussion: Read Romans 15:14 and Colossians 1:28-29. What is being accomplished by believers in these verses? How do these activities contribute to sanctification and maturity? What is your present role in these activities?