…to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12,13).
In the late 80’s, American Express began as part of its marketing to use the tag line: “membership has its privileges”. The clear implication was that rather than merely using a credit card, Amex conferred special benefits and elite status on its card-holders. Rather than just being a consumer, you as a credit card customer had the opportunity of membership, of being part of a community.
And ever since – from Apple users being part of the “cult of Mac” to hockey fans identifying with “Leafs Nation” – marketers have branded their identity by encouraging their target audience to belong to something bigger than themselves.
What is it within us that hungers for community – that group of individuals where we are known, belong and have value?
In the genesis of the development of the New Testament church, community was almost instantaneous.
Against the cultural backdrop of antagonism and hostility, Christ-followers were riveted together in the weeks immediately after Pentecost by their common faith. Believers soon realized that being part of a faith community conveyed benefits: teaching and protection; discipline and discipleship; fellowship and prayer.
And it was particularly essential to have the support of others in times of persecution and trial.
The resulting phenomenon was counter-intuitive: when the heat was most intense – first from the Jewish elite, then by the Roman overlords – Christianity exploded in growth seeing a church founded in every major city in Israel within a decade, and within most cities in the Mediterranean world within a generation.
Although as in every era the early church experienced struggle, hypocrisy, division and sin, it continued to grow – being built up and edified – as the Body of Christ constantly evidenced 3 results:
- “reach[ing] unity in the faith” – around the Greco-Roman world and in the 20 centuries since, true believers have tenaciously grasped the apostles’ doctrine: sinners being declared righteous by a Holy God solely on the basis of their faith in the Person and work of Christ:
- having common understanding “in the knowledge of the Son of God” – knowing with precision and accuracy Who Jesus is.
- becom[ing] mature in spiritual terms, measured as having the character of Christ built into the lives of His people. Paul says it this way: “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Takeaway: the New Testament assumes every believer is part of a local church. By God’s design, it is within this context that the ongoing and simultaneous processes of promoting unity, growing in knowledge of Christ, and developing maturity are encouraged and experienced, as the Holy Spirit of God incrementally, but progressively, imprints the character of Christ in each life. This is not about having one’s name on a membership list, or in a church phone directory. This is about belief and action; about belonging, supporting, living as part of His church. This is Body Life!