Most people mistakenly refer to the church as a structure where people come together to worship & fellowship together. We say phrases like, I go to church or where do you go to church? We name our churches and put a sign out in front of our building that reinforces this erroneous thinking. Rather the church is a body, a spiritual building. Thinking rightly about this gets pretty exciting!
Romans 12:5 says that “we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Ephesians 4:16 says that when every part (or member) with which it (the body) is equipped is working properly, Christ makes the body build itself up in love. Reflecting on this truth has given me confidence that Trinity Church, and every local fellowship of believers (church family) for that matter, has been gifted, equipped, with everything that it needs to build itself up in love. The gifts are the individual members, the parts chosen by God himself, the people that fellowship together. You and I! But it also begs the question, “Something is wrong when the body is not building itself up in love?” This is an important question to ask when growth is not happening.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15–16 ESV)
This passage points to two essential and practical applications. First, we’ve got to speak the truth in love! The word “rather” is referring to the previous warning of never maturing. The truth spoken in love brings maturity to the body. This is how we grow up! Truth not spoken in love is useless – this is as true of evangelism (pointing others to the truth of Christ as Lord) as it is of how believers, family members, interact honestly with one another about areas where we are not behaving like Christ. Without truth, we fail to grow up. Without love, we tear down and destroy. We need both!
Jumping to the end of this passage, we see that we are built up in love. Love is the mortar that holds us together. Love is the beauty that causes the outside world to gaze upon us and marvel at the Architect and Builder! A church that is not growing in their love for each other and for the Lord is not being built up. Paul refers to two problems with the church in 1 Corinthians 12. One is people feeling like they don’t belong. The other is people saying to others, “I don’t need you.” The body will not be held together if all its parts are not appropriately valued and honored. It is interesting that when Paul teaches the Corinthian church about the spiritual gifts, he immediately follows with the beloved 1 Corinthians 13 passage on love. I can have and use amazing God-given spiritual gifts, but if I don’t have love I am nothing! So we’re being built up in love or we are not being built up at all!
Second, Christ is the head of the church. We are growing up into him. He’s the church boss! (Thank you Mark Wold for that one. Click here for his related message on Church Health.) Christ causes the growth in the church, both in maturity and in members, only when all the parts are working properly. If growth isn’t happening, some parts aren’t working right. One element to working properly is that we are all working. Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:” (1 Peter 4:10 ESV) There really is no room for anyone to sit on the sidelines in a church. “Working properly” means that we’re all working together, pulling in the same direction, following the church boss!
When it comes to the Church, God the Father is the architect. The Church is his design to carry out his purposes of blessing the nations with redemption through Jesus Christ. God the Son is the builder (also known as the Carpenter). He says, “On this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) God the Holy Spirit is the foreman, directing and equipping, carrying out the building project until completion. So what are we? In one sense we are the workers, co-laborers with Christ, the builder and the chief cornerstone. Our work is the work of making disciples. When we are working properly, we are in fact building ourselves up in love. Elsewhere Peter says that we are “living stones” being built up as a spiritual house. (1 Peter 2:5) So in another sense, we are the building material in the hands of the Carpenter. As living stones, we are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who through his transforming work in our lives is molding and making us a more beautiful building. He makes us grow! May we truly be a beautiful body, displaying the glory of our Triune God as we grow up in every way into him!