by Nina Snyder
Unity in the Body
In chapter 12 of his first letter to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul writes that we are “the Body of Christ, and members individually” (vs. 27). He explains this concept in detail when he describes our differences of ministries and activities but that the same God gives ability to all for our particular service (vs. 6).
Consider your own body. Your liver looks and operates very differently from your pancreas or your stomach. A person has only one body, but it has many parts that still make up just one body. The Body of Christ is like that too (vs. 12).
If the whole body were an eye, it would not be able to hear. If the whole body were an ear, it would not be able to smell anything (vs. 17). The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you” (vs. 21). God’s purpose is that the body should not be divided but rather that all of its parts should feel the same concern for each other (vs. 25).
So, Church, how are we doing with that concern for each other these days? Aren’t we still in the mode of believing “We’re right; they’re wrong!” as we look at other Christian denominations or at other congregations within our own denomination, or even at those members of our own local congregation? As a result of being so very mindful of their differences, flaws or “errors,” we often distance ourselves from other members of the body.
Why not? What would be wrong with that?
Well, for one thing, Paul tells us that God has equipped us with ministry gifts “to prepare all God’s people for the work of Christian service, in order to build up the body of Christ. And so we shall all come together to that oneness in our faith and in our knowledge of the Son of God; we shall become mature people, reaching to the very height of Christ’s full stature.” (Ephesians 4:12-13 GNB).
The body of Christ must – must – change its perspective. Where any Christians believe and walk in what we consider to be doctrinal error, we must pray for them. We can’t just turn our backs on them and ignore their problem. Just as we shouldn’t cut off our left hand because it operates with an opposite perspective to our right hand, we shouldn’t reject others because their beliefs or their personal habits differ from ours.
I have a friend who believes, as many others do, in a pre-tribulation rapture from her reading of scripture. When she views today’s news reports, she comments that we must be very close to the end of the age and has withdrawn from all responsibilities as a citizen (she no longer votes in elections) as she awaits her rapture off the planet. Her life decisions revolve around that perspective.
I’ve pointed out to my friend the many thousands of persecuted Christians in foreign lands who are suffering great tribulation – even to the point of death. If they ever believed in a pre-trib rapture, I’m sure they don’t believe in it anymore. My friend, however, still holds her view which appears to me as wishful thinking.
Even though I would prefer to be lifted off Earth before any tribulation occurs, I no longer see the end times the way she does. Rather, I understand it from the perspective of Daniel 2:28-45 where Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream. Here Daniel describes the major eras of governmental rule over time and declares that at the end of these eras, a stone that is cut out without human hands will strike these governments and they will disintegrate and blow away. In spite of any suffering the Body of Christ might endure, that stone, representing the kingdom of God, will grow and become a great mountain that will fill the earth and will stand forever.
Which one of us is right? Should we let our differences divide us?
My friend and I have agreed to disagree and not let it come between us. Her life is focused on being raptured into Heaven any day now – maybe even today, so she is not actively involved in planning for the future. Mine is focused on long-term planning while continuing to minister and serve whenever possible among both Christian relationships and to unbelievers.
In his letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul expresses his thoughts about unity in the Body of Christ:
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.
Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of His body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (Ephesians 4:11-16 NLT)
It certainly would be easier to flow in relationship with those who have the same perspective and doctrines and who live life the way I do. But I don’t think I have ever encountered a brother or sister in Christ who believes exactly as I believe about biblical truths. I sometimes long for a relationship with other believers where there is perfect agreement, but I don’t think that will happen this side of Heaven.
Paul seems to concur in 1 Corinthians 13 that this is true. Here he appeals to believers to base their relationships not upon doctrines or spiritual gifts, but upon love.
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails… (1 Cor. 13:1-8a NKJV)
The apostle John also emphasizes to the reader the core value of love among members of Christ’s body:
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. (1 John 4:10-11 NKJV)
We can agree to disagree on doctrinal differences and still love one another as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us – a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2).
Christians must see themselves as members of Christ’s world-wide body across denominational lines. As convinced as we may be that our doctrinal perspectives and practices are correct, we won’t really know for certain till we are with the Lord when this life is over.
In the late 1960’s, my husband and I were part of a house church led by a couple with whom we still are closely related. They had invited a traveling minister to teach at our group one evening.
As I listened to him share his concepts, I wondered, “How can someone who loves the truth believe such apparent falsehoods?”
The Lord startled me with this question: “How much do you love the truth?”
I mentally stammered, “I uh…Well, I…uh, I love it a lot!”
Then He asked me a defining question: “Do you love truth enough to throw out everything you’ve ever learned about anything, and start all over again from scratch?”
“But what about the principles of salvation?” I asked. “What about the baptism in the Holy Spirit?”
“Everything.” He said.
Then I got a picture of myself holding up truths in my open hand and the Lord was reaching down and adjusting them with His fingers.
“Yes, Lord,” I replied. “I am willing.”
It is still sometimes a challenge to hold what I consider settled doctrines in an open-handed way rather than grasping them tightly in a closed fist.
We don’t always recognize when we are doing this, but doctrinal rigidity is the core of exclusive denominationalism and pride that blocks loving unity in the Body of Christ.
As Paul said, “knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
Have you ever wondered why God inspired Paul to describe the whole company of believers as the Body of Christ? Certainly that speaks of unity and caring for one another, but it also speaks of functioning.
When part of our own physical body is ailing or becomes weak, as well as praying for God’s healing, we often consult a health practitioner who may advise us to exercise more or change our diet, take vitamins, etc. If any part of our physical body ceases functioning, we might end up in the emergency room or worse, in the morgue.
Similarly, we do see many members of Christ’s body in a sickly state of spiritual health whose usual function as Christians is to walk into a building, sit down on a seat, sing along with a worship team, stand, sit down, listen to a speaker, put some money in the basket being passed, smile and shake hands with a few people as they are leaving, and drive home. I wouldn’t describe that level of Christianity as active participation. Yet much of Christianity commonly operates in that way and nothing more.
Paul, on the other hand, gives us a very vibrant description of healthy body members. For a clear view of this, here are three different translations of Ephesians 4:16 in present-day English:
…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. (ESV – English Standard Version)
Under His control all the different parts of the body fit together, and the whole body is held together by every joint with which it is provided. So when each separate part works as it should, the whole body grows and builds itself up through love. (GNB – Good News Bible)
As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love. (NLT – New Living Translation)
Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he clearly described the spiritual actions and miracles which would be done by His believers as they ministered in His name:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do,because I go to My Father. And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.” (John 14:12-14 NKJV)
Notice that Jesus said these works would be done by those who believe in Him. Dear reader, do you believe in Him? If you do believe in Him, are you doing the works that Jesus did before he went to the Father? Do you believe what Jesus promised? — “If you ask anything in My name, I will do it.”
What are these works that Jesus said believers in Him (That’s me! That’s you!) will do?
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18 NKJV)
That certainly goes beyond average believers who do little more than pew-sitting, with maybe a bit of service thrown in like parking cars or taking up the collection. There are many reasons behind this condition of spiritually limited, rather than spiritually empowered activity in members of Christ’s body.
Many pastors accept their denominations assumption that the miracles, signs and wonders Jesus did were to validate His teachings and position as Messiah.
In some denominations, one major reason for spiritual limitation is their belief that Jesus’ promise in Mark 16 was intended to end when the last of the original 12 apostles died.
Further, many believe the cessationist doctrine that ties these miraculous acts to the 12 apostles even though Scripture records two large groups, with 70 and with 120 disciples, who were initially sent out.
But there is no scriptural backing for this doctrine, nor is there historical evidence that His promise was restricted in that way. Since the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the upper room (Acts 2), there have been periodic waves of faith movements, some small and some large that show the continued power of the Holy Spirit working through believers as Jesus promised.
If one impartation of the Holy Spirit was sufficient, why did the risen Jesus, just before He ascended into Heaven, breathe on His disciples and impart the Holy Spirit to them (John 20:21-22) and then tell them to wait in Jerusalem until they were baptized (immersed) in the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:49) – a second and different impartation of the Holy Spirit.
In the first impartation, they received the Holy Spirit as an indwelling presence (Him in us), but in the second impartation, they would be immersed (baptized) into the Holy Spirit (us in Him). This is similar to the placement of Jesus and the Father as Jesus described in John 14:10 “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?”
Let’s look again at Ephesians 4:11 to what we often have understood to be the ruling ministries in the Church:
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. (Eph. 4:11 NLT)
In the original Greek, the word “apostle” means sent one – specifically an ambassador of the Gospel. In today’s church life, that could be a missionary or perhaps a visiting overseer in some denominations. “Prophet” in Greek means forth-teller, one who speaks words of Divine inspiration or insight. Evangelists proclaim the Gospel – the good news of salvation through Christ’s blood. This includes all that Jesus accomplished for us through his sufferings and crucifixion: atonement for sin, healing for our bodies and souls, power over all demonic influences, and prosperity to replace poverty. The word for “pastor”used in both Old and New Testaments refers to a shepherd who leads the flock, and the word “teacher” means instructor.
Are they ruling or are they equipping ministries? The definitive understanding of these ministries named in verse 11 follows in verse 12 where Paul explains:
Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ. (Eph 4:12 NLT)
So, if we expect ministry to flow only, or mostly, from the work of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, then what is left of His work for the rest of us in the Body? Can you see how the Body of Christ is kept feeble and incapacitated by doctrines of demons that tell us we can’t do what Jesus said to do in Mark 16:17-18, or worse, that these works were just for the first century Christians? Where does it ever say that in Scripture?
If, through reading God’s Word, or hearing an inspiring teaching or reading a book on Body ministry, we discover that there is more for us to experience and do as members of the Body of Christ, then we must become equipped for that work.
When modern day pastors have the courage to teach their congregations that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – all three persons of the Trinity – want to be active in our daily sojourn through life, these pastors make room for each believer to be taught how they can hear from God and be inspired by the Holy Spirit who Jesus said would teach us all things:
But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said to you. (John 14:26 MKJV)
When Christians who are hungry to experience more of God in their lives discover this truth on their own, they often independently seek out seminars and conferences, books and courses that help them to identify their spiritual gifts and callings and teach them how to recognize when God is inspiring or leading them to do something or to speak an encouraging word to someone.
But just think how much more could be accomplished if pastors would begin to lead their congregations in this equipping of God’s people to discover their supernatural gifts and callings and to become fully active in their service to the Lord!
Some pastors resist having their congregation explore spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit because they don’t understand the necessity of what one Bible teacher described as: “E.M.I. – Every Member Involvement” in a healthy maturing Body of Christ.
Along with seeking an up-close relationship with the Lord, every member of the Body of Christ needs the nourishment of reading daily from Scripture (especially from the New Testament) and listening for His revelations and insights as He leads us day by day through all our plans and decisions.
…(we) do not live by bread alone; rather, we live by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3b NLT)
Above all, our posture before God must be absolute surrender to His will. No holding back anything! Remember that Jesus modeled for us how to relate to the Father and to the Holy Spirit. Jesus not only taught us to pray “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” but Jesus also said He only did what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19) and only spoke what He heard the Father saying (John 12:49-50).
When Jesus was baptized at the beginning of His three years of ministry, John the Baptist received a vision which the apostle John records:
And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:32-34 NKJV)
Mark’s gospel adds the following to this story:
The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where He was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of Him. (Mark 1:12-13 NLT)
This was not merely an interesting side-note. This was actually one of the main purposes of Jesus’ coming to Earth as the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Remember how He continually referred to Himself, not as the son of God, but as “the son of man.” For example, in Matthew’s gospel – He said 32 times “son of man”, but only once did He say He was the Son of God.
Jesus’ 40-day contention with Satan not only played a necessary part of restoring our position and dominion on the Earth – the dominion that Adam had given over to Satan in the fall, but Jesus was also modeling for us how we too can successfully stand against Satan day after day. When we are totally surrendered to God and when we recognize that we have the Holy Spirit empowering us and imparting wisdom to us as well as holy angels caring for us, we can more effectively put down all the evil notions and limitations that the enemy might throw at us.
Our individual immersion into the Holy Spirit and receiving His empowerment is essential to the health, strength and unity of the Body of Christ.
Jesus spoke to the Father about this critical unity:
…that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:21-23 NKJV)
In fact, the timing of Jesus’ return at the end of the age may be dependent upon the Bride making herself ready in this way.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Revelation 19:7-8 NASB)
What does it look like to be clothed with righteous acts? This description of the Bride of Christ in Revelation 19:7-8 is not referring to our following a set of legal requirements as set out in the Old Testament’s rules and regulations. Rather, this is being motivated by God’s love in all that He directs us to do.
Righteous acts are not only sacrificial, that is, they are not prideful or self-serving, but Paul defines them specifically in his discourse on love in 1 Corinthians 13:3-8
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails… (1 Corinthians 13:3-8 NASB)
If love is a key factor of unity in the Body of Christ, if it is an essential element of my service, leadership, and functioning in Holy Spirit power, signs and wonders, then how am I doing today?
Do I feel any bitterness toward a person who wounded me? What is my attitude toward a Christian brother who orders his wife around and treats her more like a slave than a partner? How do I respond to a fellow Christian who rolls her eyes when I talk about a healing I just experienced? How do I relate to a family member who calls himself a Christian but regularly tells dirty jokes and uses curse words? Do I see myself as better than they are? Do I pray for them with an attitude of superiority or do I recognize as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:10 that it is only “by the grace of God that I am what I am.”
We limit ourselves sometimes because of poor self-esteem and sometimes because we don’t understand what the empowering presence of God can do in us to enable us to be all that He created us to be and to do all that He created us to do.
God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” (Genesis 2:18) Note that the word “helper” is ezer (ay-zer) in Hebrew – the same word that is used 19 out of the 21 times in the Old Testament when referring to God as our helper.
When God formed Eve out of the side of the first Adam, she was like Adam in every way but gender. God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.(Genesis 1:27) Adam recognized their oneness when he commented about Eve: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man.” (Genesis 2:23).
In the same way, Jesus the Messiah who Paul identified in 1 Corinthians 15:45 as the last Adam has a bride who is bone of His bones, and flesh of His flesh because she – the bride, the church – is created from Him. As the Body of Christ, we are one with Him.
So what does that imply for our life in Him? Read through the four Gospels about Jesus’ life, His motives, attitudes, moods, words, actions, wisdom and power as He walked through life, and you will see the answer and catch sight of your own readiness as His bride. Look at Jesus, not only His sacrificial love but also His own fusion with the Holy Spirit following John’s water baptism (Luke 3:22).
Here is the challenge to us all as the Bride of Christ – that we believe and seek His promises to all believers:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.” (John 14:12 NKJV)
“And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
So then, after the Lord had spoken to them, He was received up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went out and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word through the accompanying signs. Amen. (Mark 16:17-20 NKJV)
Not only should we believe that God’s promises of spiritual power to the early Christians are available to all of us, but also that as the Bride of Christ, we must prepare ourselves for Jesus’ return, clothing ourselves with love-based righteous acts and power inspired by the Holy Spirit (Rev. 19:7-8).
If you ever watch the ocean’s tide comes in, you see that as wave after wave comes ashore, each one recedes before the next wave, but each wave reaches higher and higher up the beach till it is fully high tide. In like manner, there have been incoming waves of Holy Spirit outpourings over the years.
We currently are witnessing one of these great worldwide outpourings. See the resources below for more information.
Dear Heavenly Father,
I am so grateful to be included as a member of the Body of Christ. I surrender to the influence of your Holy Spirit, so that my heart and mind would be conformed to the image of Christ and that my actions would be truly righteous.
I pray for all of us in the Body of Christ as we prepare ourselves to be an appropriate Bride as we wait for Christ’s return.
Your name is Holy! May your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Thank you for your abundant provision for us, spiritually and physically especially for your indwelling and empowering Holy Spirit, and thank you for forgiving us for our sins and keeping us safe from the evil one’s enticements. Amen.
Witnessing the Body of Christ in Action
Rolland and Heidi Baker – After coming to Africa and starting with street beggar children in 1995, we have seen a people movement spread across the ten provinces of Mozambique. Massive desperation for God rising out of a long history of repression, poverty and natural disasters has fueled revival, one that is sparking more fire in nations around the world. And signs and wonders are following all the way.
What began as a ragged band of young beggars, thieves and delinquents has developed by the power of the Holy Spirit into a closely-knit national family of thousands of churches and a broad ministry encompassing Bible schools, children’s centers, church-based orphan care, primary education, medical clinics, constant evangelistic and healing outreaches, farming, well drilling and much else. But most of all we proclaim Jesus. He is our salvation, our prize, our reward, our inheritance, our destination, our motivation, our joy, wisdom and sanctification — and absolutely everything else we need, now and forever.
Expecting Miracles: True Stories of God’s Supernatural Power and How You Can Experience It, with Rolland Baker. Chosen Books (2007) ISBN 978-0-8007-9434-7
Baptism in the Holy Spirit – Third Edition, by Randy Clark. Apostolic Network of Global Awakening (2009)
There is More by Randy Clark. Chosen Books (2013) ISBN 978-0-8007-9550-4
Randy Clark explains that more is not only biblical but essential for greater fruitfulness in ministry and service. And he shares how you can access the more that God wants to give to you.
Spreading His Glory – Bill Johnson, Bethel Church
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1ibQZwMgEY (3 minute introductory video)
(Plus his many books listed on Amazon.com)
4.) The Invitation by John & Carol Arnott. Catch The Fire Books (2013)
(available on Amazon.com)
John and Carol Arnott share both biblical and personal revelation of the importance of investing in intimacy with God in preparation for the return of Jesus. As the Bride of Christ, the church is responsible for getting itself ready for the wedding of the Bridegroom. Revival is continually being poured out all around the earth and it is time for us as believers to invest in the intimacy which transforms our lives today and prepares our hearts for eternity.
Whether you are a leader, a church member or a new believer, The Invitation will inspire you to take practical steps today which are fundamental in preparing your heart for the Lord’s return. Building a life of intimacy with God will bring transformation into every area of your life. There is no time left to be lukewarm.