Means of Growth: Body Life
Dennis McCallum and Gary DeLashmutt
I. WHAT IS BODY-LIFE?
Body-life refers to Christian fellowship as taught in the New Testament. There, the word koinonia, is usually translated “fellowship” or “sharing.” The word means “to have in common” or “to share.” In the Body of Christ, we are supposed to share the life of Christ with one another in a way that cannot be done in any other context. This is accomplished through the exchange of Christian love facilitated by our spiritual gifts. Such an exchange, called “ministry” (which simply means “service”), is the life-blood of growing Christians.
Clearly such koinonia is not just a matter of attending one or two meetings a week. It is much more than that. This is why the verse so often used to stress the importance of attending church (Hebrews 10:25 “. . .not forsaking the assembling together as is the habit of some. . .”), is frequently misunderstood today. This verse is often taken to mean that only our presence at church meetings is necessary. Instead, we find that according to 1 Corinthians 12:21 (“. . .the eye cannot say to the hand, `I have no need of you’. . .”), it is not just the presence of the other members that we need, but also their function. The Body of Christ should be seen as an organic union based on genuine personal relationships and mutual interdependence. The important point is not just that we attend meetings (although this is a necessary aspect), but that we authentically share the life of Christ with one another. Thus, “. . . speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the Head, even Christ. . .” (Ephesians 4:15).
II. PRINCIPLES OF BODY-LIFE
- Because we are a part (and not the whole) of the Body of Christ, we need what the other parts of the Body supply (1 Corinthians 12:21, 22). For the same reason, the rest of the Body needs our specific function for its overall health (1 Corinthians 12:15-18). If we aren’t in fellowship, we cannot see needs or discover our spiritual gifts.
- Body-life helps to guard us against doctrinal imbalance in our Christian life. Paul traces excesses and heresy to lack of involvement with the rest of the church (Colossians 2:19; Ephesians 4:14,15).
- Involvement with other believers helps make more concrete God’s love for us and our love for God (1 John 4:20). It is accurate to say that God loves us through others, and others through us (Mt. 25:34-40). Therefore, love, whether given or received, with God or others should not be dichotomized (1 John 4:20,21).
- Since the ministry aspect of Body-life is practicing biblical love, it is central to the goal of Christian instruction (1 Timothy 1:5). Ministry counteracts a selfish, temporal value system by replacing it with investment in eternal things–people (see Mathew 6:19-21 and interpret in light of 1 Thessalonians 2:19,20).
- Victorious love output, based on knowledge of God’s love for us, is the biblical key to fulfillment in life (John 13:17; Acts 20:35; 1 John 4:16-19). Ministry gives an outlet and an unselfish purpose to the other means of growth. Apart from ministry, the other means of growth will tend to be viewed as purely self-serving tools, and thus will not result in long term growth.
- Barriers to developing Body-life may need to be addressed:
- Culturally glorified autonomy
- Broken or alienated homes which can lead to fear of intimate personal relationships
- Previous negative exposure to “church”
- Bitterness or moral impurity
- Ignorance of the biblical teaching on normative involvement in the church
- Exaggerated standard of qualifications for those who do ministry
- Discouragement over previous failure in ministry
III. PRACTICAL STEPS TOWARD BODY-LIFE
- Regular exposure to fellowship is the first requisite. This involves not only coming to meetings regularly, but also doing social things together and (most importantly) developing close friendships with believers.
Christians should realize that it was normative for the New Testament Christians to have significant fellowship virtually every day (see Acts 2:42,46; Hebrews 3:13). One of the best ways to facilitate this is by living with other committed Christians (including Christian marriages).
- To develop ministry, we should begin by trying to meet various needs we discover in the people in our home church. This teaches us to actively search for needs, an essential ability for effective ministry.
- When we find needs which are beyond our ability to meet, we should find someone who is competent to help us. By watching them closely while they address a need, we can learn additional ministry skills.
- Personal discipleship by an older believer is very helpful in the development of ministry skills. The older believer can often answer questions or problems encountered. Discipleship is effective only when the goal is seen to be victorious love output on the part of the disciple.
Discipleship within the context of small groups is especially helpful for a number of reasons. The leader can disciple a number of people at once. Also, the younger believers can learn to work together and offer each other the encouragement, prayer and advice that is essential for effective ministry.
- Persistence is important because relationships and ministry skills take time to develop. Any Christian can become highly competent in ministry, but such competence is the result of much effort, study, failure, etc. Often, those who are less gifted succeed in ministry because they have the determination to keep going.
IV. SELECTED SCRIPTURES:
- John 4:34
- John 6:1-13
- John 13:12-17,34,35
- Acts 2:42
- Acts 20:35
- Romans 12:4-16
- 1 Corinthians 12-14
- Galatians 6:2
- Ephesians 4:11-16
- Philippians 2:1-5
- Colossians 2:19
- Colossians 3:12-17
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14,15
- Hebrews 3:13
- Hebrews 10:24,25
- James 5:15-16
- 1 Peter 4:8-11