A Personal Look at Discipleship, Pt. 6
Study Guide – November 12, 2017
Pastor Clay Olsen
Life is tough, right? I shared with the guys at our Life Group one person’s prayer for dealing with this tough life. You may have heard it. It goes like this: “Dear Lord, So far I’ve done all right. I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent. I’m really glad about that. But in a few minutes, Lord, I’m going to get out of bed…and from then on, I’m going to need a lot more help.”
Yes, life is tough even before you get going very far. But one thing that helps dealing with this ‘tough life’ is having a tough plan, or having a solid plan, a disciplined plan; a plan that you can live by. We have been walking through that plan, the plan of ‘Discipleship’, particularly the five disciplines of a disciple’s life. And as personal disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ we are not only responsible for practicing these disciplines in our personal lives, but we are to know that we are also going to give an account to our Lord concerning what we did about these disciplines as we lived out our lives as His disciples. So we need to continue to unpack this fourth discipline that we started in our last study: the discipline of church life or of ‘body life’ development.
So let’s look again at that key passage of Eph 4:11-13- “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” NASU
Did you notice the central goal? ‘…to the building up of the body of Christ.” I have mentioned before that my college Pastor had been a ‘body builder’. At one time he was awarded the title of ‘Mr. Mid-West’ in body building. And like in most churches there was always some push back from time to time about different programs and such. But the thing was, everyone was careful not to personally push him! You didn’t mess with Mr. Mid-West! Some of you have done weight training and body building before. Nate’s been pumping iron for years…he’s in power lifting competition at Liberty University. I stopped wrestling with him at about age 13!
But the point is; what a great image for a Pastor to have been into ‘body building’, since a central activity of the church is ‘body building’. The goal of each believer, from the leaders who serve to the servant leaders…the goal is to be a ‘body builder’; a believer who intentionally seeks to serve others in such a way as to build up the body of Christ. So you can add that to your Christian identity: “I am a ‘body builder’.”A Christian is a ‘body builder for the Lord’. In fact, ‘body building’ is one of the central reasons we come to church; to build up others in the church.
In our Membership Orientation class one the things we always point out is the fallacy of one of the most common things you hear from those who do not practice the discipline of church service in their lives. Their default line that they go to is this: “Well you know, you don’t have to go to church to be a good Christian.” How many times have you heard that one?
What is completely misunderstood about that is this: “When has the goal of the Christian life ever been about being a ‘good Christian’? And who decides what a ‘good Christian’ is anyway? No, the goal of the Christian life is not about being a good Christian; it’s about being an ‘obedient Christian’! And to be an obedient Christian we have to commit our lives to doing what Christ has commanded us to do. And one of those things involves committing ourselves to worshiping, fellowshiping, and serving in a church body, a particular body of Christ. In speaking of the habit of church fellowship the book of Hebrews states it very clearly: Heb 10:23-25- “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” NASU
And here we see that not only are Christians to obey the command to regularly assemble as a body of believers, but they are to be even more committed to it as the time approaches for the Lord of the Church to return for His church. So practicing the discipline of church worship, fellowship, and service in your life is not optional for any disciple of the Lord Jesus; rather it is mandatory. Christ expects it and He will evaluate what His disciples did about it when they give an account of their lives before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Another fallacy about church that you often hear is that some say that they don’t feel the need or see the need for church in their life, as though some believers need church, but others don’t. Once again, is there anywhere in God’s instructions to His church that indicates that church is about how a follower of Christ feels about it or sees any need for it personally? No, rather what we find are instruction after instruction about our need to minister to the needs of others in Christ’s church. In fact, there are about fifty eight times in which the concept of ‘one another’ is used in the New Testament, statements like ‘Serve one another’, ‘Be devoted to one another’, Honor one another’, ‘Bear one another’s burdens’, ‘Encourage one another’, and on and on. You see, a believer can’t even obey some of God’s instructions apart from being an active participant in a body of believers. Back to that Hebrews passage: The avenue for obeying the command to encourage one another in the service of love and good deeds was through the habit of being used by God to do this through the fellowship of God’s people, His church.
It’s as Ray Ortland put it: “The Christian who is not committed to a group of other believers for praying, sharing, and serving, so that he is known, as he knows others, is not an obedient Christian. He is not in the will of God. However vocal he may be in his theology, he is not obeying the Lord.” Pretty strong statement, right? And pretty clear that the goal of discipleship is being an obedient Christian, not just a good Christian.
But since we are on the subject of ‘good’, what does God say about ‘good’ in relation to being an obedient Christian? Gal 6:10- “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” NASU So an obedient Christian is one who does good for others in need around him, but he especially does good for those in his own household of faith, or in his own fellowship of fellow believers; the church.
And one really good example of a ‘good Christian’ in this sense is a man called ‘Barnabas’. The Bible even calls him ‘a good man’. Look at this: Acts 11:22-26- “The news about them reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch. Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord. And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” NASU
When God calls you ‘a good man’ that’s really good! But here’s the point: One of the things this ‘good man’ did was that he focused a good amount of time and energy and money on building up this church in Jerusalem and in building up this church in Antioch and in building up churches every other place that he and the Apostle Paul went as ‘church planters’! And why did this ‘good man’ do this? Because He knew that to be an obedient Christian God’s will for him was to plant and to build up local churches. And in the same way, although you may not be called to plant a church, you and I are called, commanded really, to ‘build up’ the church.
So for one thing, we are back to dismantling any idea about church as being something that a Christian can decide about on the basis of him or her feeling they ‘need’ church in their life or not. No, being a serving part of a local church is way past being an ‘option’ for a disciple of Christ’s; rather, it is an ‘obligation’ of a disciple of Christ’s. We are obligated to God to do our duty in seeking to do whatever we can to build up our fellow believers in a particular body of Christ to which we are committed to serving. In fact, God has equipped every Christian with something that is needed by someone else in a particular body of the church. Look at what the Apostle Peter says about that:1 Peter 4:10-11- “God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to Him forever and ever! Amen.” NLT
There’s that ‘serve one another’ command again. Plus, whether a believer feels he or she needs church in their life or not is not a valid determination for church in their life. No, far from it, because the Apostle Peter reveals that the issue is that someone or some others in the church need the gift or special service that you have been given by God. Therefore, once again, you and I are obligated to pass on to others in His church what God intends to get to them through you and me. If a believer is not regularly worshiping, fellowshiping, and serving in a local body of believers then that believer is withholding something that God intended to get to other body part through that believer. He or she is denying something that God was going to pass on to another child of God through them. You see, That’s one of the other reasons He calls us “His branches”, since He, as ‘The Vine’ intends for us to be the channels of His resources to others in His church, which He intends to ‘build up’ until He returns.
And that brings us back to whatever else we are as believers in Christ, we are in fact ‘body builders’ for Christ. Church body building is our duty. We are commanded to edify or to build up others in the body of Christ. 1 Thess 5:11- “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.” NASU How remarkable that this verse is one of the primary answers to the question of why we are supposed to go to church, or what are we supposed to do when we go to church? Certainly, we go to worship our Lord and to offer our gifts of thanksgiving and to learn and to grow together. But one of the foremost things we should have on our minds as we regularly go to church is that we are going with the purpose of ‘building up’ someone else; building up some other Brother or Sister in Christ.
As Paul was writing to the Corinthian church he said: 1 Cor 14:12- “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church.” NASU In the midst of him giving these believers instructions about spiritual gifts he injects this prime directive: “…seek to abound for the edification of the church.” That’s a marching order to each of us disciples of Jesus Christ. Why is being an active part of a local church so important? Because we have a prime directive from the Scriptures to ‘seek to abound for the edification of the church.’ When you and I come to church we are to be seeking to edify others around us in the church. The word ‘edification’ actually means ‘to build up’. A building is often called an ‘edifice’. And so an edifice is the result of edification, or a building is the result of ‘building’. Yeah, the English language is a lot more confusing than the Biblical Greek. Fortunately English wasn’t an option when the Bible was being recorded for mankind. I understand English developed from a set of North Sea Germanic dialects spoken by the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes around the 5th to the 7th centuries. So English sprung up a lot later than Greek. Just thought you’d like to know.
But back to our point: What the Scriptures reveal to all of us believers is that one of the purposes of going to church is to edify or to build up our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. As a fellow ‘body builder’ we are to seek to actively contribute to another believer’s spiritual, emotional, and even physical well being. As we gather together for worship and fellowship we are to come to church with the focus of encouraging someone in need of encouragement; or to enlighten someone who needs understanding; or to pray for someone in need of prayer; or to lift up someone who is under heavy burdens; or to comfort someone in a time of sorrow; or to celebrate with someone over a recent victory; or to affirm someone in some worthy accomplishment; or to magnify someone’s sense of importance and significance, and so on.
Essentially, church is not about if someone sees the need for it in their life or not; Church is about our fellow believer’s need to see or receive something of Jesus from you and from me as we obediently seek to build up the body of Christ for the glory of God and the gain of His body; His Church. And one day we are going to give an account to Jesus about what we did in this assignment that He gave to us in being a ‘church body builder’ for Him.
Rom 14:19- “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”