Ministering to One Another
Have you ever watched a symphony orchestra perform, or listened to its music? Recently I heard a beautiful symphony, which seemed to my ears perfect in every way. The balance between the stringed, wind, and percussion instruments was exceptional. The composition was played with feeling and style. There was perfect harmony and timing. It was obvious that the conductor had complete control. All of the instruments were in tune, and each member of the orchestra did his part to contribute to the perfection of the total performance. Whether they had a large part to play or a small one, all of the members worked together to achieve a beautiful symphony of sound, which lifted the hearts of those who heard it.
The church in ministry can be compared to a symphony orchestra. We do not all play the same instrument, but a variety of instruments is necessary to achieve the desired results. Some of the instruments have a larger part to play, but even those with a less important part would be missed if their sound was not heard. Our conductor, the Holy Spirit, must have complete control, and all of the instruments must be in tune, or there will be discord and lack of balance. When each member of the church is totally involved in the ministry God has given to him, there is a beautiful harmony and unity which edifies all who experience it.
Necessity Of Body Ministry
The church is a redeemed community of believers. This redeemed community is formed because of 1) what Christ has done for it; 2) who it is in Christ; and 3) what it is to do for Christ. Each member must accept a full share in the common life and purpose which unites all the believers. The believers must share what Christ has done for them. They must encourage and build each other up in the Lord.
What is God’s will for the redeemed community—the church? Why does such a community exist? The Bible has not left us without an answer. Jesus Christ, before going to the Father, told His disciples:
Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).
These words of the Lord are known as the Great Commission to the church. They are words of action. They instruct the church to do two things: 1) make disciples and 2) teach. Making disciples is called evangelism, and teaching is called edification (building up).
Evangelism and edification go hand-in-hand. Both are necessary to fulfill the Great Commission. God’s plan is incomplete without both of them. Their relationship to each other can be compared to the two blades of a pair of scissors. The task cannot be accomplished with only one blade. Both are necessary.
Evangelism is the ministry of the church to the world. It is the church to the world. It is the church going out to witness to unbelievers. We will be discussing this in our next lesson. But in this lesson we will discuss the ministry of the church to itself, which includes edification. It is the church building itself up as a redeemed community.
The church has been called the body of Christ. Thus, we can refer to its ministry to itself as body ministry. We have chosen to talk about the body ministry of the church before discussing its ministry of evangelism. Why? Because the world will believe our words only if it sees the believer’s testimony reflecting love, unity, and godly living. Each believer, and the entire group of believers, must be an example in order to win others for Christ. A spirit of Christian community within the church is essential for effective witness to the world.
The church accomplishes God’s purpose by what it is (a redeemed community) and by what it does (a redeeming community). The church is before it does. The church has value in what it is. “Christ loved the church and gave his life for it” (Ephesians 5:25). The church was chosen by God Himself (Ephesians 1:11). The church is not just a tool in God’s plan—it is the object of God’s love! It must then be concerned about itself for the glory of God.
Edifying One Another In The Body
The church’s ministry to itself causes the members to grow spiritually mature. The church is to be a community of believers in fellowship. The idea of community includes the idea of sharing, of fellowship, and of showing love and concern. Each believer in the community of the church must become a responsible member. “So when each separate part [individual] works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love” (Ephesians 4:16).
A person becomes a Christian the moment he expresses true, saving faith in Christ. This is when the foundation of faith in Christ is laid. Then throughout the rest of his life he must build upon that foundation. Each Christian has a responsibility to build his own life in Christ, and also to help others build theirs. As we build, our Christian character is developed.
The task Christ gave to the church to edify itself is not an easy one. But Christ sent the Holy Spirit to help us obey His command. He is called the divine Comforter, the Helper, one who is called to help and give service (John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7).
What kind of help does the Holy Spirit offer? For the edification of the church He provides two things:
1. The fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit produces in us the qualities of Christ. The fruit has to do with our Christian character. It is necessary within the church in order to equip us for witness and service. The fruit reveals the degree of our growth and development in the Lord.
2. The gifts of the Spirit. The Spirit gives spiritual gifts to the church for the purpose of giving service to the members of the body and to carry out the particular ministries to the body. Before going on, read about the gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. How many of these gifts have you seen in the ministry of your own church?
The Holy Spirit has provided the fruit of the Spirit to develop in us the Christ-like character we need in order to fulfill God’s plan. The Spirit has also provided the gifts of the Spirit so that we will have the ability we need to fulfill God’s plan. Just as edification and evangelism must go hand-in-hand, so must the fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit go together. The Corinthian church was “not lacking in any gift” (1 Corinthians 1:7 KJV). Yet it was an immature church, because it did not have the character of Christ which results from having the fruit of the Spirit. That is why the apostle Paul revealed to the church in 1 Corinthians 13 that the fruit of love is greater than the gifts of the Spirit. Without the fruit of the Spirit, the gifts are lacking. Both are necessary for effective body ministry.
Building Character In The Body
Christ is the measuring rod for the church. He is the cornerstone upon which we, the living stones, are laid. The apostle Paul told the Ephesians:
You, too, are built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, the cornerstone being Christ Jesus himself. He is the one who holds the whole building together and makes it grow into a sacred temple dedicated to the Lord. In union with him you too are being built together with all the others into a place where God lives through his Spirit (Ephesians 2:20-22).
All believers are members of the family of God (Ephesians 2:19). Spiritual growth occurs best within a caring family. Spiritual growth will take place when the church is in close fellowship. Each believer must feel that he is a part of God’s family. He must spend time sharing with others in the family. There must be a strong desire for communion and involvement with other believers.
Spiritual character develops through communion. As we become involved with each other we become aware of the need for Christ’s love in our relationships with others. All of the other fruits are a result of the love that we have for one another in Christ.
It is the Holy Spirit’s desire that all believers become like Christ. “Those whom God had already chosen he also set apart to become like his Son . . .” (Romans 8:29). So you see that God’s interest in us as redeemed individuals is centered in what we are, rather than what we do. What we do is a result of what we are. For example, a loving person shows love. A caring person acts in a caring way towards others. We know that Christ loved us because He showed His love for us when He gave His life for us. The model of what we should be is Christ. We are to reproduce Christ’s image before the world. We are to be like Christ.
How do we become like Christ? The most important way to take on the character of Jesus is to spend time with Him through the Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to impart Christ’s nature to the believer. As we spend time with Him in prayer, and in reading His Word, we have a greater desire to be like Him. Christ’s character in Peter and John was seen by others, who were amazed as they realized that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
We also become like Jesus as we spend time with other members of the body of Christ. To do this is to obey the apostle Paul’s advice: “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19, KJV); “Teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16, KJV). As we spend time with one another, we have opportunities to practice the qualities which are the fruit of the Spirit.
The character of Christ in the believer is a product of the fruit of the Spirit. Let us see how this fruit was demonstrated through the life of Christ.
1. Love. Read the definition of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. This is the kind of love Jesus showed in His life on earth. But His love is even greater than that.
2. Joy. In John 17:13, as Jesus was praying for His disciples, He talked about His joy: “I say these things in the world so that they might have my joy in their hearts in all its fullness.” What was His joy? We read more about it in Hebrews 12:2:
Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.
As we fix our eyes on Jesus, we can have the same joy that He had, even when we go through times of difficulty, because of the joy that is waiting for us when we go to be with Him in heaven. There we will have perfect communion with Him on whom our faith depends! Joy is the result of being with the one we love!
3. Peace. Jesus has given us His peace! In John 14:27 we read His words: “Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid.”
Joy and peace flow out of our love relationship with Christ. They can be described as fruit directed upward to God.
4. Patience (longsuffering). Jesus revealed His patience many times during His ministry. When Peter came to Him asking “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” Jesus replied, “No, not seven times . . . but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22). Often the disciples became impatient with the crowds who followed Jesus, and wanted to turn them away, but Jesus patiently taught the disciples by His own attitude to develop a servant ministry. The attitude of Jesus to the world is one of patience: “The Lord is not slow to do what he has promised, as some think. Instead, he is patient with you, because he does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants all to turn away from their sins” (2 Peter 3:9). As we become more like Christ, the fruit of patience or longsuffering is produced in our lives in our relationships with others.
5. Kindness (gentleness). Jesus showed much kindness, or gentleness, in His relationships with people. When the woman charged with adultery was brought to Him, He dealt with her and her accusers in a gentle way, then told her, “Go, but do not sin again” (John 8:11). When Peter denied Him at Jesus’ trial, Jesus simply turned and gently looked at Peter (Luke 22:61). When Isaiah prophesied Jesus’ death he compared Jesus to a gentle lamb: “He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly; he never said a word. Like a lamb about to be slaughtered, like a sheep about to be sheared, he never said a word” (Isaiah 53:7). Do you react in this same gentle way when people accuse you wrongly, or when they disappoint you in some way? Are you able to be kind even when the other person is unkind? As we spend time with Jesus, we can grow in kindness or gentleness.
6. Goodness. “Because the Lord is righteous and good, he teaches sinners the path they should follow” (Psalm 25:8). “The Lord is good; he protects his people in times of trouble; he takes care of those who turn to him” (Nahum 1:7). “He was put to death for the sins of our people. . even though he had never committed a crime or ever told a lie” (Isaiah 53:8-9).
Goodness includes purity—one who is good is pure. A bad spot on a piece of fruit will spoil the whole thing. Jesus is the perfect example of goodness. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 we read, “Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.” It is only through Him that we can be made good. The results of goodness are seen in our actions. In Acts 10:38 we read that Jesus “went everywhere, doing good . . .” Can this be said about you?
Patience, kindness, and goodness are all attitudes or characteristics that relate to other people. They can be described as fruit directed outward to others.
7. Faithfulness (faith). One who is faithful is full of faith. Jesus demonstrated His faith in the Father by His obedience.
Our faith is shown by our obedience to do the will of the Father. A faithful person is reliable; he can be depended upon. An attitude of faithfulness is essential to carry out the ministries of the church.
8. Gentleness (meekness). We have already talked about Jesus’ kind, gentle spirit. These words are very similar in meaning, but in this aspect of the fruit of the spirit the idea is one of humility. A humble person is not proud or boastful. He has an attitude of submission, of self-denial of giving way to others. Christ expressed this attitude throughout His arrest, trial, and crucifixion. The apostle Peter, speaking to believers, said, “Your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle [meek] and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:4).
9. Self-control (temperance). Self-control means ruling our desires or passions and bringing them in subjection to the Spirit’s control. Jesus gave us an example of perfect self-control when He was tempted by Satan. (Read Matthew 4:1-11.) In Hebrews 4:15 we read these words about Jesus, our High Priest:
Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin.
Self-control means there is balance in everything we do. It includes moderation—limiting ourselves to that which is adequate to meet our needs. It is allowing the Spirit to take control of every thought, every desire, every action. It is summed up in Romans 12:1-2:
Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer. Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.
Faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all characteristics that develop within us. They can be described as fruit directed inward to ourselves.
Exercising The Body
The church, as a living and active body, has order and structure. God is a God of order and beauty. But He is also a living God who acts. The church is Christ’s body, created to carry out God’s redemptive acts to the church itself and to the world.
The church is a united body of believers. The strength of the church’s action comes from the unity of believers. The unity comes from within, and is a spiritual grace (gift). The unity of the Spirit gives strength to the members of the church and makes them an effective witness to the world.
The church must have the fruit of the Spirit to maintain the unity. A believer with the character of Christ will not seek his own interest, but will seek the interest of the body of Christ. The apostle Paul said that this unity of the Spirit is preserved (maintained) by lowliness, or humility, gentleness, and patience (Ephesians 4:2). These are graces given by the Spirit for the cooperation of the body. Unity is the very essence of the body— the body is unity: Paul describes it as one body, one Spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all mankind (Ephesians 4:4-5).
This unity is not uniformity. It does not mean that all members of the body are exactly alike. But it means that all members work together in harmony, each doing his part, for the good of the whole. Unity comes from within each believer as he walks in the Spirit in one accord with his brothers and sisters in the body.
One reason the church has been compared to a human body is to show the unity the church should enjoy. The principal idea is that we are not separate units, but “we are all members together in the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:25). On the one hand we are individuals, each with his personal relationship to Christ. On the other hand we blend together to form a spiritual body which has a relationship to Christ, but also responsibilities to one another.
What are the church’s responsibilities to the members of the body? They are:
1. Edification—building itself up
2. Purification—keeping itself pure, righteous living
3. Education—training and teaching of the members
4. Discipline—correction of those who fall into error
We have already seen that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to the church so that it will have the ability to minister to the body. Now we will briefly consider those to whom He gives the gifts.
Can you see how these gifts are given to the church for its edification, purification, education, and discipline? When all of the gifts are operating in the church and there is a spirit of love and unity, the church is truly a redeeming community.
We do not have space here to fully discuss the gifts of the Spirit. You will want to study this subject by taking the ICI course Spiritual Gifts which is also a part of this series of courses.
In the body of Christ each member has something to do. Some of the members are given greater responsibility than others, but every task is important. The pastor has the responsibility to lead the body, to preach the Word, and to teach Christian principles. He can also have other gifts of ministry to the body.
Some members of the body are given administrative ability. Some have a ministry to pray for the sick, to encourage those who are troubled, to give of their time, talents, or money.
Some are called to be teachers. In many churches there are Sunday school training classes or other Bible study classes, youth group activities, women’s groups, and others. Teachers and leaders are needed for all of these. Some are given a ministry in music. Others are led of the Spirit in a visitation ministry. One of the gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12 is “those who help others.” A helping ministry may go unnoticed by many people, but it is a gift that all members of the body can possess. We can help by praying for others, showing hospitality, cleaning the church building, helping someone who is sick or aged, visiting members of the body who need encouragement, and in many other ways.
Recently I heard about a faithful man who had a ministry that was not even known by most of the people in the church. Every Sunday morning he would get up early, put on his working clothes, and go to the church. He would go through every room in the church, making sure all the lights were working, all the chairs were in place, and everything was in readiness for the hour of Bible study and the worship service. Because of his ministry, the church building was always in order and ready for use.
We are encouraged in 1 Corinthians 12:31 to “Set your hearts, then, on the more important gifts.” We do this by an attitude of willingness to receive whatever gifts the Holy Spirit chooses to give us, and to use them for the glory of God and the unity of the church. Sometimes this attitude is expressed in the way we fulfill the ministries that may seem less important.
The result of every member working together with the other members in unity, each doing the part God has given him to do, is a mature church. It is a church that is prepared to reach out to the world in fulfillment of the redeeming ministry God has entrusted to it.