Some people aren’t willing to be relational in the body because they are afraid others will find out what they’re really like. Surprisingly enough, as we become involved in the body of Christ, we find out that other people have weaknesses and problems just like we do.
Because I’m a pastor, some people get the wrong idea that I have somehow arrived at the height of spiritual maturity. They think I don’t have faults or weaknesses. But anyone who hangs around me for very long will find out that I have faults just like everybody else.
I’d like to share five things that can only happen by being relational in the body of Christ:
As I see it, discipleship takes place in three categories in the body of Christ. These are clearly illustrated in the life of Jesus. The first category is the large group. Jesus discipled people first by teaching them in large groups—”the multitudes.” To me, this corresponds to the worship service.
We will grow in the Lord as we meet together corporately to worship and sit under the teaching of the Word of God. The large group meeting is part of our discipleship. It has a place in the Christian life.
The second category is the small group. Jesus called 12 disciples, and the Bible specifically says He called them “that they might be with him” (Mark 3:14).
That’s one of the main reasons He called them. He spent a lot of time just with those 12 men developing a special relationship with them. The small group is where we become relational. It’s where we get to know each other more personally and build relationships.
Small groups include various church ministries such as life groups and home fellowship, men’s and women’s Bible studies, children’s ministry, youth group, prison outreach, and a host of others. For many years, I took part in our prison ministry once a month.
Over time, those team members got to see my imperfections, and I saw theirs. We even joked with each other about our differences. But one thing happened. We got to know one another personally through that ministry time together.
Even now, I continue to make it a priority to stay involved in some form of small group fellowship on a monthly basis.
The third category of discipleship is the smaller group. Among the 12 apostles, Jesus often took with Him Peter, James, and John to places that the other nine didn’t get to go. And even among those three, there was one, John, who became known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23).
John had a unique, singular relationship with Jesus that was unlike that of the other 11. The smaller group is where we experience three-on-one, two-on-one, or one-on-one discipleship.
I believe each category—the large group, small group, and smaller group—constitutes a vital part of our discipleship, and that no part should be excluded. Yet, it’s in the small groups that we become connected with each other. In those relationships, not only will we grow, but through our lives, others will grow too.
In turn, our investments in one another’s lives will contribute to the growth of the body. Small groups, home fellowships, and relational ministries are a necessary part of our Christian walk. As we become relational in the church of Jesus Christ, we will mature as Christians.
THE GRACE OF GOD
The grace of God is manifest through the body of Christ as we exercise our spiritual gifts within the body of Christ. 1 Peter 4:8-11a says:
“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ…” (NIV)
Peter gives two broad categories of gifts: speaking gifts and serving gifts. You may have a speaking gift and not even know it yet. That speaking gift doesn’t necessarily have to be worked out on a stage on Sunday mornings. You may teach in a Sunday School class, lead a life group, or facilitate a three-on-one or one-on-one discipleship.
Perhaps you have a gift to serve. There are multitudes of ways to serve the body that will not only bless others, but you as well. So, as we get involved or “plugged in” to ministry, the grace of God will be revealed through the gifts He has so graciously given us.
THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST
Paul said in Philippians 3:10, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death …” Some of the sufferings of Christ are experienced only within the body of Christ. I think of Jesus and the apostles—those 12 He chose to be with Him. One of them, Judas, betrayed Him. When the betrayer appeared at that crucial hour in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ three closest followers had fallen asleep.
They should have been praying. They let their Lord down, and they let themselves down. When the soldiers came and arrested Jesus, every one of them deserted Him.
On one occasion Paul pleaded with Timothy:
“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”
(2 Timothy 4:9-11, NIV)
Paul knew what it was to be deserted by friends and fellow laborers. He, too, experienced suffering within the body of Christ.
It saddens me that so many Christians find it easy to leave a church because they get hurt or offended. I’m convinced that those who leave because the pastor let them down, or the congregation let them down, or somebody offended them or wronged them, will take that hurt with them.
Unless they resolve the problem, it will affect them the rest of their Christian lives, and it will make it easier for them to leave the next church. Not only will they cease to mature, they will fail to grow close to Christ through suffering.
We must understand that part of the suffering of Christ is actually experienced within the body of Christ, and God uses this suffering to mature us.
“…to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
(Ephesians 4:1b-3, NIV)
MATURITY AND STABILITY
Maturity and stability are produced by service in the body of Christ.
In 1 Timothy 3:13, it says, “Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.” The term “excellent standing” means a grade or degree. Those who serve well gain a firm foundation in their Christian walk. In other words, when we serve the body, we grow.
I have observed through the years that those who grow and mature the most, are those who really get plugged in and serve somewhere in the church.
Ephesians 4:16 says, “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.”
With this concept of an interconnected body of Christ in mind, I’d like to share a portion of a fascinating article I read entitled “Together Forever” in Life magazine (April 1996). It was about co-joined twins—a miraculous pairing of two heads on one body with one set of arms and legs.
Abigail and Brittany Hensel are co-joined twins, products of a single egg that for some unknown reason failed to divide fully into identical twins… The paradoxes of the twins’ lives are metaphysical as well as medical. They raise far-reaching questions about human nature.
What is individuality? How sharp are the boundaries of the self? How essential is privacy to happiness? …Bound to each other but defiantly independent, these little girls are a living textbook on camaraderie and compromise, on dignity and flexibility, on the subtler varieties of freedom…they have volumes to teach us about love.
The article went on to describe these two girls that are at the same time one. They have been forced to live together, and now nobody can separate them. They do not want an operation. They do not want to be separated. They each have individual personalities, tastes, likes, and dislikes. But they share one body. And they have chosen to remain as one.
What a beautiful picture of the body of Christ. We are all different. We all have individual tastes, and distinct likes and dislikes. Still, God has put us together. And one of the main things He wants to show in a body that has such a multiplicity of parts and personalities is that something about us is unique.
We can be wholly different, and yet we can live as one. Our love for one another is the greatest evidence of our being true disciples of Jesus Christ: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).
Will you make it a priority to spend time with God? I believe these words I mentioned earlier bear repeating. I came across them years ago in my devotional reading, and they have never left me. Though the source of the quote now eludes me, the truth of its message has impacted and inspired me deeply.
“Fellowship with God is the privilege of all, and the unceasing experience of but a few.”
I long to be one of the few; I pray you do as well.