GCL A.11 Christ’s Body: The Church

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In Which We Become the Church, As We Grow Into Christ Our Head Via His Gifts

Continuing the theme of Sanctification, we explore how we are discipled into the name of Christ through His body — the Father’s principle vehicle for forming His Kingdom, by His Spirit. Specifically, we see how the fact that we serve One God requires us to worship Him as One Church.

Memory Verse: “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.” — Ephesians 4:16 (NKJV)

Assigned Reading

  1. Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings
    • 26. The Nature of the Church
    • 28. The Lord’s Supper
  2. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (pdf)
    • 75. The Apostles
    • 76. The Church
    • 77. The Marks of a True Church
    • 86. The Fruit of the Spirit
    • 87. Love
    • 88. Hope
  3. 26. The Nature of the Church
  4. 28. The Lord’s Supper

Adoration

Read Psalm 122. Why do we gather together?

Bible

Ephesians 4

In Paul’s Epistle to the church at Ephesus, he has been talking about the glorious work of the Father in calling us to His purpose. He now asks us to live up to that calling:

{4:1} I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,

So what does such a walk require?

{2} with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love,

[Discuss: Which of the virtues in verse 2 do you find the most challenging to live out in community?]

Fascinating; the key to walking with Christ apparently is not intelligence, courage, or religious observance — but a willingness to suffer. To what end?

{3} endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Unity is hard. Paul knows that it requires immense humility, self-control and patience to maintain a healthy community with (other) fallen human beings — but it is essential. Why?

{4} There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling;

{5} one Lord, one faith, one baptism;

{6} one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

For Paul, the unity of the church isn’t so much an ideal as a “brute fact”, grounded in the reality that God Himself is One.

In a polytheistic world, it made sense to have many different temples and worshipping communities centered around different deities. But we serve a single God, who has no division or conflict within Himself, who is so completely sovereign that He leaves room for no other gods.

He has given us only One Son, into whose name we must be baptized. We all share the same faith in who He is, and have the same hope for eternal life.

In short, in all the most essential things that define who we truly are, everyone who worships Jesus as Lord truly is part of one body — whether we like it or not!

[Discuss: Have you ever been part of a church split? Could it have been avoided if everyone involved understood Paul’s teaching from Ephesians 4?]

{7} But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

Paul ties Christ’s gifting into His ascension, via Psalm 68:18:

{8} Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.”

This mirrors our earlier lesson on John 16, where Christ says He must die and ascend to heaven in order to “gift” us the Holy Spirit:

{9} (Now this, “He ascended”–what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth?

{10} He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

So what gifts does He give us to help fulfill His mission of “filling all things”?

{11} And He Himself gave some [to be] apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers,

These roles are sometimes referred to as “church offices” or the “five-fold ministry gifts”; frequently the “elders” (from Titus) and “deacons” (from Timothy) are also included.

The nature and relevance of these roles is the subject of much debate between various Christian traditions. “Cessationists” claim that the first two are no longer needed or active, while charismatics argue that all five are essential. There is also disagreement about whether “pastor and teacher” is one office or two, and whether some offices are superior to others.

One reason for the confusion is that relatively general Greek words are used to indicate very specific Christian concepts — but the New Testament writers never produced a glossary defining exactly what they meant! Thus, we need infer a definition from the way they used those terms, and different groups choose different interpretations.

The most important thing to realize is that these were given to us by Christ, for our benefit and His glory. As such, our primary task it to understand what His purpose is in giving these gifts, to ensure we are accomplishing that (regardless of what terminology or mechanisms we use).

To that end, here is one possible breakdown of these roles:

Role Literally Function
Apostle “one sent forth” Lays the foundation for the church
Prophet “one who brings forth hidden things” Speaks God’s truth to the church
Evangelist “bringer of good tidings” Preaches the gospel to save sinners
Pastor “shepherd” Watches over God’s people
Teacher “imparter of instruction” Instills doctrine in Christ’s followers

[Discuss: Which of these functions have you ever helped perform — whether or not you held the “office”?]

As general concepts, these are relatively non-controversial — but clearly necessary.  Disagreements typically arise over the level of supernatural power and spiritual authority associated with each of these roles, and whether/how that may have changed over the course of church history.

Perhaps the best way to resolve those questions is to instead focus on why He gave these gifts:

{12} for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,

This verse contains two revolutionary ideas:

  1. The first is that church offices — i.e., leaders — do not exist to “do” ministry! Rather, their role is to equip (“complete”) all of us (those being sanctified) for ministry.
  2. Second, the purpose of all this is not our individual perfection (much less happiness!), but that we as the entire body of Christ may be built up.

[Discuss: How much do you as leaders do ministry versus equip others to do it?]

The main reason there is so much concern and controversy over these offices is the fear of them being used and abused for personal gain and glory — as, tragically, has happened far too often in church history. If we truly understood (and lived out) Paul’s teaching here, we would see that the ultimate measure of a leader’s effectiveness is actually how well their followers — as a whole — manifest holiness, ministry, and maturity.

In short, the key is realizing that the “gifts” in question are not the specific anointing for, e.g., apostlehood or prophecy. Rather, this verse is actually best read as “Christ gave these people as gifts to His body.”  In other words, the apostle is not the recipient of a gift, they are the gift! Which means we together as the whole body of Christ are the true recipients of all these gifts.

To what end?

{13} till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;

The goal is that all of us together need to not just trust in Christ, but know Him and be filled with His “name”.

For Paul, holiness is not a solitary ideal to be pursued in hermit-like isolation. Rather, it is something we achieve as a community, through the workings of the leaders God has gifted us with.

Why? Because alone, we are far too vulnerable :

[Discuss: Have you ever been isolated as a Christian? What was the result?]

{14} that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

Whereas together, we can correct and complete each other :

{15} but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ–

Submitting to Christ as our head is utterly dependent upon our being joined together with His body. There is no room in Scripture for “lone ranger” Christians. Rather:

{16} from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

Not only do we need the body, but the body needs us. It is only as each of us ministers to one other with the gifts God gave us — as the gifts God made us! — that He builds His kingdom in all of us.

This is a reminder we desperately need, as we certainly can’t learn it from our culture:

{17} This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind,

Because they lack a vision of who God truly is, and what He desires for them, and so wander into the follies of the flesh:

{18} having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart;

{19} who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

Unlike us:

{20} But you have not so learned Christ,

At least in theory:

{21} if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus:

Who should know better:

{22} that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,

{23} and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

And do better:

{24} and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

{25} Therefore, putting away lying, “[Let] each one [of you] speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.

[Discuss: Share about a time someone spoke the truth to you in love. How did you respond?]

Even when things go wrong:

{26} “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath,

{27} nor give place to the devil.

We will discuss anger and forgiveness much more in our next series, but the key lesson for now is that we should not be slaves to our own feelings but rather seek to bless others:

{28} Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with [his] hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

{29} Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

And therefore God Himself:

{30} And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

By manifesting the character of Christ:

{31} Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.

{32} And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.

Amen, Lord Jesus.

Decision

  • Repentance: Which areas of your life are disconnected from the body of Christ?
  • Action: Where might God want you be a gift to the body of Christ?
  • Worship: What gifts can you thank God for today?

For Next Week

For next week, read Revelation 20-21. What strikes you most about heaven?

Memory Verse: “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.'” — Revelation 21:3 (NKJV)

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