Thursday, July 30, 2015

P2 What you need for healthy Christian growth - Church body-life

Ephesians 4:11-13 "And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ."

Review from yesterday - Healthy Christian growth is not optional for the Christian
Oddly enough, many Christians today seem satisfied with little or no progress in their Christian walk. God chose, called and convicted sinners by His Spirit to believe on Christ apart from good works for the purpose of growing up in a salvation that is to abound in good works. The overall pattern and design of the Christian life is to grow onward and upward in the Lord. Such growth may experience seasonal declines, however the vast majority of the Christian life ought to witness advances and an overall pattern of change. Passages such as 2 Peter 3:18 explicitly command us to grow up in our walk with Christ: "but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen." Peter also writes in 1 Peter 2:2 "like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation." Like the Apostle Peter, the Apostle Paul also explains the need of healthy Christian growth. Romans 12:2 is but one example - "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." 

The urgency for healthy Christian growth is not up for debate in the scriptures. The question is: what and how do Christians grow in their Christian lives? The premise of these next few posts will be that healthy Christians make for healthy churches. God has prescribed three main ministries in the local church to ensure the spiritual healthy of Christians. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes 4:12  "And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart." We will be exploring two chapters (Ephesians 4 and 1 Timothy 4) to discover what I am calling "the 3-braided rope" of healthy Christian growth in Christians and the church, which includes the following:

1. Pastoral ministry (1 Timothy 4; Ephesians 4:11-12)

2. Church-body life (Ephesians 4:13-24)

3. Small-groups (Ephesians 4:25-29)

We saw yesterday how pastoral ministry is used by God in the spiritual health of Christians and churches. Today we want to add a second and equally important ministry - Church body life.

Church body-life is the second essential component to healthy Christian growth
Within Ephesians 4 we find direct statements about the importance of church body-life for healthy Christianity in Ephesians 4:15-16 "but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love." The concept of the church as the body of Christ is the most often used imagery to describe the church in the New Testament. Jesus Himself utilizes the transference of His life to each Christian in regards to the "body" of He being the vine in John 15. Following His ascension into Heaven, the Apostles regularly employed the imagery of Christ's physical body as being the proper description of the church's relationship to Him. Such a description means that the idea of "lone ranger" Christianity is alien to the the Bible. Ample verses testify to the significance of church body-life to the Christian.

For example, Romans 12:5 "so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another." Paul then goes into full exposition about this concept of church body-life in 1 Corinthians 12. We see for instance his remarks in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." Paul's statements convey one of the twin truths about the body of Christ in the New Testament - that it is composed of all true believers the world over. The other truth of course being that, on a more local level, each local church is composed of members who have been regenerated in saving faith, followed by believer's baptism into the local fold (see Acts 2:41 for example). 

Within the book of Ephesians we find ample references to the local body of believers. For example, Ephesians 5:23-27 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless."

Since the very life of Jesus is conveyed through the body of the church, it stands to reason why we see commands to be connected to the ministry of the local church. Hebrews 3:12-13 reminds us - "Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Also Hebrews 10:24-25  "and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds,25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near." These last two references in Hebrews can equally apply to the importance of church body-life as a whole or small-group ministries like Sunday School - which will be more the focus tomorrow.

How pastoral ministry and church body-life work together to promote healthy Christian growth
The design of the Christian life requires Christians to be in fellowship with one another in the local church. To tether this post onto what we explored yesterday, the pastoral ministry works with the church-body life to provide a two-fold method for healthy Christian growth. God's people in general need to be sitting under the preaching of the Word if they expect to grow. For example, Hebrews 13:7 "Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith." Also Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you." As a final example of how pastoral ministry and church body-life work together to promote healthy Christianity, consider this clearest of examples, 1 Thessalonians 4:12-15 - "But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people."

Tomorrow we will consider one more essential element for healthy Christian growth - small group ministry. 

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