From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
In the last lesson we began to study about what a church is and why a Christian should be a member of a local church. For many in this country, such membership is the equivalent to membership in some club or lodge. They see the local church as a social club where they can be entertained, a cafeteria where they can enjoy food, a nursery where they can get away from the children, a rest home to take care of the elderly, or a powder room where they can show off the latest fashions. Was this God's intention? In this lesson, as we learn more about what a church is, we need to study what membership means to the normal Christian.
In Colossians 1:13, Paul begins a discussion about Jesus, the Son of God, who he says in verse 18 is "the head of the body, the church". Throughout the New Testament, you will find that the church is referred to as the body of Christ and that a Christian is a member of that body (Romans 12:5, 1 Corinthians 12:27). While this definitely involves the universal aspect of the church (all the saved), it also encompasses the local aspect of the church as well. As a member of a local church, a Christian is a member in that local body of Christ. This analogy of the body provides some great principles about the meaning of membership in the life of a normal Christian.
Membership in a local church differs from other memberships because the church is not an organization but an organism. The normal Christian is a member of something that is living - a body. This body has a head which is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:19). Let us understand the following truths from this principle:
In Colossians 2:18-23, Paul speaks out against some who try to remove the head from the body. In verse 19, he stresses the dependency of the body upon the head. We get our nourishment and life from the head. A church that is alive will have Jesus as its head. He will have the preeminence in the church being the One who receives all of the attention, praise, and worship. He will be the main topic of discussion. He will be respected and obeyed as being the One who is in charge. A church that removes Jesus from being its head will produce no fruit and will soon wither and die.
Paul says that Christ is our life (Colossians 3:4) and his own testimony was this, "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). Christ, as the head of the body, is not just our source of life but He is also our purpose and direction for living. A normal Christian does not join a church as a side part of their life. No, it is their life. All other things become secondary to the church (Philippians 3:8). Careers are replaced with jobs intended to meet the material needs that enable the Christian to serve God in the church. Hobbies and interests become doing the will of God and bringing pleasure to Him (John 4:34). One cannot read the New Testament without realizing that the center piece in the life of a normal Christian is the local church.
A body has a purpose or function, and each member likewise is designed for a particular function within the body. Let us now examine these two aspects more fully.
In Romans 12:4, Paul begins a discourse on gifts and a similar discussion is given in 1 Corinthians 12:4-31. God has given each member in the local church a function to perform and enabled them through the giving of gifts. Let us understand three facts from this analogy:
Each member is not the same. The body is not made up of just eyes or ears. There are many different parts each with a particular function (1 Corinthians 12:14-19). No Christian has been designed to do everything, but each has been given gifts for a specialized function in the church.
Though Paul gives an order to the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, he makes it clear that no member should think that they are more significant than another (verses 21-25). All the members are required for the body.
As God has given each member a gift for performing a particular function, they ought to use that gift (Romans 12:6-8, 1 Peter 4:10-11).
What do we do when one of our body parts quits functioning?
Ephesians 4:16 gives us a great definition of the purpose and function of the body as a whole: "increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love". Let us consider the two meanings of this increase which both edify the church:
1. Increase in Number
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that He was going to build His Church. It is God's plan for the church to grow in membership (Acts 2:47) and for more local churches to be established (Acts 16:5). As members of the body, we have all been given the commission to work towards this end (Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8).
2. Increase in Nature
The members of the church are to increase in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). This is so clear in the passage in Ephesians 4:13-14, "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God". This is one of the reasons why we have Sunday school and church services. As we learn more and become more like Christ, we can all better edify the church. Our gifts are exercised and we become more proficient: "the effectual working in the measure of every part" (vs. 16).
Ephesians 4:16 also reveals another principle about the body found in the phrase, "the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth". We are members collectively of a body. Let us consider a few lessons from this principle:
A foot needs to be attached to the body and the body needs the foot to be attached. If members exist in isolation, separated from the body, how can the body perform its function? Hebrews 10:25 says, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching". The believers in the Jerusalem church "continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2:42). Normal Christians need to assemble themselves together.
For the body to function properly, the members need to work together. Ephesians 4:25 says, "Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another". That means members need to get along with one another and function collectively (Romans 12:10, Ephesians 4:29-32).
What happens in our body when one part quits working with another?
When a member of our body suffers, the whole body feels it. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26, "And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it". As members, we need to share in each other's sorrow and joy rather than rejoicing over another's sorrow and envying yet another's joy. We need to pray for one another's needs and shout over one another's victories as if they were ours.
Dr. William Russell Owen is accredited with the statement that of all the present day church members:
What kind of a member are you? Are you a normal Christian member of a local New Testament Church?