Personal, But Not Private
For building up the body of Christ, until we all attain….to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:12-13)
Many Christians today feel that their walk with God is private and independent. They see no need for joining a church or making themselves accountable to other believers. Some view the church in terms of how it can help them accomplish the ministry God has given them personally, rather than seeking how lives fit into the larger work the Lord is doing in the congregation. The Bible teaches that our walk with God is personal, but it is not private. Sin makes people independent. Salvation makes us interdependent on one another. Scripture teaches that the church is a body in which every member is vitally important to the others.
While Christians have personal access to God through Christ as their one Mediator(1 Timothy 2:5). God created the church as His redemptive agent in the world. He is at work accomplishing His purposes, and He places every member in a church to accomplish His purpose through each congregation. Members are enabled and equipped by the Holy Spirit to function where the Father has placed them in the body. Then the body functions as Christ leads, until every member becomes spiritually mature.
What God is doing in and through the body is essential to my knowing how to respond to Him. Where I see Him working in the body, I make the necessary adjustments and put my life there too. In the church, I let God use me in any way He chooses to complete His work. This was Paul’s goal when he said, “We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.”(Colossians 1:28) Paul constantly urged believers to become vitally involved with his life and ministry. The effectiveness of Paul’s ministry rested on them. (Colossians 4:3; Thessalonians 3:1-2; Ephesians 6:19)
Henry and Richard Blackaby
The idea that church is a collection of individualistic participants free to choose their place and preferences is not the biblical teaching. As a matter of fact the Bible teaches just the opposite. It teaches that we are interdependent upon the other members. In Jesus’ description, He likens us to a branch connected to a vine and each branch is an individual but no branch is independent. Again the idea is that should that branch separate itself it will die.
15 “I am the true Vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that continues to bear fruit, He [repeatedly] prunes, so that it will bear more fruit [even richer and finer fruit]. 3 You are already clean because of the word which I have given you [the teachings which I have discussed with you]. 4 Remain in Me, and I [will remain] in you. Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself without remaining in the vine, neither can you [bear fruit, producing evidence of your faith] unless you remain in Me. 5 I am the Vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in Me and I in him bears much fruit, for [otherwise] apart from Me [that is, cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken off] branch, and withers and dies; and they gather such branches and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
Each branch has its place on the vine and it is placed in that position by the Creator. Every branch is designed to produce fruit and if it ceases to function as it was designed to do it is removed so that the other branches remain healthy. The branches that remain connected to the vine are pruned so that they may bear much fruit. As a farm boy, I know that fruit trees have to be pruned otherwise they consume the nutrients for themselves and produce no fruit. When pruned, they turn their energy to producing fruit. The Holy Spirit is constantly removing more and more of the flesh and our sin nature so that we in turn may produce more fruit.
Paul uses the analogy of the church as a body, the Body of Christ. He tells us that the body is the church and Christ is the Head. We who are members are placed into the body so that it might be complete and so it can function to its fullest capacity. Wherever God places us in the body, it is always the place of fruitfulness.
For just as the body is one and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form [only] one body, so it is with Christ. For by one [Holy] Spirit we were all baptized into one body, [spiritually transformed—united together] whether Jews or Greeks (Gentiles), slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one [Holy] Spirit [since the same Holy Spirit fills each life]. For the [human] body does not consist of one part, but of many [limbs and organs]. If the foot says, “Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,” is it not on the contrary still a part of the body? If the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” is it not on the contrary still a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole [body] were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But now [as things really are], God has placed and arranged the parts in the body, each one of them, just as He willed and saw fit [with the best balance of function]. If they all were a single organ, where would [the rest of] the body be? But now [as things really are] there are many parts [different limbs and organs], but a single body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” But quite the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are [absolutely] necessary; and as for those parts of the body which we consider less honorable, these we treat with greater honor; and our less presentable parts are treated with greater modesty, while our more presentable parts do not require it. But God has combined the [whole] body, giving greater honor to that part which lacks it, so that there would be no division or discord in the body [that is, lack of adaptation of the parts to each other], but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. And if one member suffers, all the parts share the suffering; if one member is honored, all rejoice with it. Now you [collectively] are Christ’s body, and individually [you are] members of it [each with his own special purpose and function]. So God has appointed and placed in the church [for His own use]: first apostles [chosen by Christ], second prophets [those who foretell the future, those who speak a new message from God to the people], third teachers, then those who work miracles, then those with the gifts of healings, the helpers, the administrators, and speakers in various kinds of [unknown] tongues.
1 Corinthians 12:12-28
So let us remember that we have been grafted into the Body of Christ, the church. Let us remember that separate we die but connected to the vine we produce fruit. Let us be thankful that God designed us to fit into a unique place in His Body the no other can fill. Let us appreciate the fact that God has placed us with all the other members of the body so that together, we as a single unit-a body of believers- carry out God’s purposes. Let us live for the good of our fellow believers, placing them and their needs above our own desires. Let us encourage one another in the race of faith and as the writer of Hebrews says, “let us approach [God] with a true and sincere heart in unqualified assurance of faith, having had our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us seize and hold tightly the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is reliable and trustworthy and faithful [to His word]; and let us consider [thoughtfully] how we may encourage one another to love and to do good deeds, not forsaking our meeting together [as believers for worship and instruction], as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more [faithfully] as you see the day [of Christ’s return] approaching.”
As we face the future, let us do so together as a single body made up of its many members. Let each of us know our worth and place in the Body and let us strive for the health and benefit of the entire body and not just a focus on individualism.
Dr. John Thompson