What is life in the church supposed to be like?
Ephesians 4 15 … speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 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.
We grow as Christians and we grow as a church when each of us plays our part.
New Living Translation 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
But what does each part doing its work mean? Paul probably wrote his Letter to the Ephesians from prison around 62 AD. Church life was very different for the first Christians to what it is like today. For a start, churches were just groups of people, meeting together in each other’s homes. The earliest church buildings date from the first half of the third century. So churches didn’t run activities like Toddlers or Café or Drop-In. Churches didn’t run events like International Evenings or Family Fun Days. In fact, life in the early church was probably more like our church life has been during lockdown than it has been at any other time we can remember.
When Paul wrote about each member of Body of Christ doing its work so that the whole body was built up, he probably did have specific things in mind. To begin with, we play our part in the body of Christ by obeying the great Commandments: loving God and loving our neighbours. And Jesus also gave his disciples a Third Commandment.
John 13 34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
We each grow up into Christ and play our part in the Body of Christ by loving other people. The Bible commands Christians to love one another or love each other 15 times. A dozen times it commands us to forgive each other, to agree with each other, to live in peace and to submit to one another. We are called to encourage each other 4 times, as well as to build each other up, to help and admonish and warn each other. We heard these commands from earlier in Ephesians 4 last week.
2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
We play our part by keeping the peace. At the same time, loving other people will also mean doing all the good works of practical service which God calls us to do within the church community, in our workplace and with our neighbours.
Ephesians 2 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Another aspect of the work God has given to Christians to do is to bear witness to his salvation, to share the good news about Jesus and to make disciples. Jesus commanded,
Matthew 28 19 … go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
An essential part of growing up into Christ is learning the truth which sets us free.
4:15 speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
We have thought before about some of the wonderful truths God wants us to learn. Discovering for ourselves just how wide and long and high and deep God’s love is. Experiencing the amazing power which raised Jesus from the dead released in our own lives. God calls all Christians to learn and grow in their faith that comes as we teach each other.
Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.
Christians can also each play our part and do our work by exercising spiritual gifts. Some of these seem more spectacular, others very mundane, but all gifts are just as important in building up the Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12 talks about prophetic gifts: prophecy, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, discerning spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues. Apostles and prophets and teachers are named alongside those with gifts of helping and of administration. When spiritual gifts are exercised, the Body of Christ is built up.
In Romans 12 Paul says this. 4 Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. 7 If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; 8 if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, contributing, leading, acts of mercy. Our spiritual gifts may be different but all Christians have our work to do. Every Christian has our part to play in the body of Christ. In the comedy horror film/series “The Addams Family”, a strange creature “Hand” pops out of a box to answer the telephone. But there is no such thing as a disembodied hand in the church. No Christian is an “independent ear” or a “freelance nose”! We ALL have a part to play in the Body of Christ. NONE of US is useless. That is the difference between the Body of Christ and the human body – the Body of Christ doesn’t have an appendix. NO part of the Body of Christ is redundant, NO part in the Body of Christ is useless! God has jobs for each and every one of us to do. Our responsibility is to use the gifts God has given to do the jobs he wants us to do. It is only when EVERY separate part works as it should that the whole body grows. We each have to play our part.
Ephesians 4 also tells us that God has provided ways for us to grow in our faith as individuals and move on with God as a church. Those ways lie in the people Christ has given as gifts to the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastor-teachers.
Ephesians 4 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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.
Too many churches misunderstand this passage. They think it says that “God has given pastor-teachers … for works of service”, as if all the works of service are done by just a few people, just the pastor-teachers. That is wrong. What it actually says is that God has given the pastor-teachers to prepare all God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up. It is NOT that the apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor-teachers do all the works of service themselves! The role even of evangelists and especially of pastor-teachers, is to to equip and prepare and enable ALL God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up! Incidentally, in the Greek the phrase in Ephesians 4 is not “pastors and teachers” which might imply two different kinds of people doing two different jobs. These are pastor-teachers, teaching shepherds, those who pastor by teaching, one person, one task.
Baptist Christians have always believed that ministers are not some special kind of Christian, set apart from ordinary Christians. The pastor-teacher is just an ordinary Christian with particular spiritual gifts (and often with training and experience) called to do a particular job in the life of the church. Baptist churches recognise that the pastor is not the only person who can do “pastoral care”. Loving God, loving other Christians and loving our neighbours and being a witness for Jesus should be part of “the normal Christian life” for EVERY believer, just as much as worship and prayer are. The work of the pastor-teachers, and the apostles and prophets and evangelists, equip and enable and support and train and encourage and help every member of the Body of Christ to play their part. Pastor-teachers are called to help every Christian grow to become active serving Christians, to help all Christians express and share their faith in daily life and in the community, and equip everyone to exercise pastoral care for one another, and bring glory to God in their worship and their witness. When Christians are growing in their faith, then outreach and pastoral care will follow naturally. “Evangelism is the overflow of our joyful faith.”
So this is what being the church is all about. Each of us playing our part. This is what God wants North Springfield Baptist Church to become, more and more in the months and years ahead.
,,, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (New Living Translation)
What is life in the church supposed to be like?