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."
Oddly enough, many Christians today seem satisfied with little or no progress in their Christian walk. The overall pattern and design of the Christian life is to grow onward and upward in the Lord.
The Apostle Paul 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 Apostle Peter notes in 2 Peter 3:18 - "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." The verb translated "grow" in 2 Peter 3:18 is in the second person imperative plural, indicating that the command is directed at "persons", not just a singular "person". In other words, Peter is urging his audience a group of Christians, to grow in their relationship with Christ in the context of fellowship with one another. 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." The plurality of Christians in a local church setting is implied by the passages cited from both Paul and Peter's letters.
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." Think of each believer in a local church body as a strand of rope. What happens when all the strands are combined together? You have a much stronger spiritual cord!
The Urgent Need For Maturing Christians, and God's Revealed Solution: The Local Church
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 today's post is that healthy Christians make for healthy churches, and vice-versa.
Church body-life is an 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."
As we noted in the last post, 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).
Christ and His Church: A Beautiful Picture Of Body-Life
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."
The design of the Christian life requires Christians to be in fellowship with one another in the local church. God's people need to sit 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."