Lesson 7 The Divine Life Of The Church

“That the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body” (2 Cor. 4:10).

The church is a living body of people, completely dependent upon the Lord for all spiritual life and power. Christ is our life, both individually and collectively (Col. 3:4). When we abide in Him and draw nourishment from Him, we flourish (John 15:1-5). If we look to Him, we can depend upon Him to faithfully provide all that is necessary for our blessing.

God has revealed His character as One who will not practice any partiality. Therefore He is equally willing to bless any company that gathers in His name if they are willing to meet His conditions for blessing. As a general rule, the blessings of God are conditional. Faith, obedience, righteousness, and even perseverance are some of the character conditions which God states are necessary to receive answers to prayer or to have power in living. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The Bible is filled with stories and precepts that illustrate God’s blessing upon the righteous or His judgment upon the disobedient or unbelieving.

It would seem that only a minority of assemblies, like the minority of professing believers, truly enjoy the power of God’s life working effectively in them. Since the fault cannot rest with God, the problem must lie with us in not availing ourselves of His promises (appropriation) or not meeting His conditions (faith and obedience). We are surely mistaken if we think that the Lord is satisfied with deficient lives and the dimly burning lampstands that are called local assemblies. His charges to the churches of Asia make this clear (Rev. 2 and 3).

Resources For Life In The Body

We are inclined to dwell upon the problems and opposition we face rather than the resources available for victory. Believers speak much about the power of the Devil, the wickedness of the world system about us, the general decline prophesied for the last days, and then justify failure. It is also possible to comfort ourselves with thoughts that laxity or decline in our church’s vigor are excusable if only we are faithful in observing the correct forms and attending meetings. Does the Lord of the church agree with this?

We need to dwell upon the promises and resources provided by the Head of the church for His Body. He has put the life of God into us personally, and therefore it is present collectively. When that life flows like the nourishment of the vine into the branches, they will be fruitful. God expects fruit. He prunes or removes that which is not fruitful. This applies to the local assembly. God imparts divine life, His seed, to believers (2 Pet. 1:3). The Spirit of God is given as our Helper (John 14:16,26). The Holy Spirit was considered indispensable to the progress of the infant church (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4,5,8). They were not to move out on their mission until He came to indwell them. Any steps we take will fail without a close relationship to the Spirit of Christ. We must be yielded to Him to fill or control us. The life of Jesus will flow through His church when He is reigning as Lord over His people who are fully yielded to that rule in all areas of their lives. The alternative is to grieve, quench, or otherwise hinder His Spirit. Then the divine life does not flow properly. This results in a weak testimony. In time, the lamp will grow dim or the lampstand will be removed (Rev. 2:5).

Things may seem to be going well with outward signs of prosperity, even though there are great defects within a body. This was true in the time of King Solomon and among other generally good kings of Israel and Judah. Ruinous events followed their reigns. A church may be giving the appearance of life by attracting a large number of people. Another church may excite attention to itself by self-inflating publicity, making brash claims, presenting attractive personalities or musical entertainment which can bring out crowds for a time. Man is exceedingly clever in his ability to counterfeit genuine spiritual life. To such churches, the end justifies whatever means are used. Comparing such assemblies, and their methods, to the Lord and His methods, exposes the former as cheap imitations. The Lord Jesus did not seek publicity, even for His miracles and signs. He would often tell those He healed not to tell anyone what had happened. He never was in the business of raising funds or begging for money. He was not an entertainer and did not use such methodology to reach people.

Hindrances To Life In The Body

Some of the things already mentioned constitute a hindrance to principled growth. Materialism, meaning the preoccupation with things to be acquired or held, hovers over much of the western church like a deadly smog. Corruption, even among popular leaders, has made the very word church a scandal in the world. Some have given opportunity to the enemies of the Lord to mock both Him and His cause. Defective consecration may be the greatest single factor which prevents progress or victory in the lives of believers. This means the lack of whole-hearted commitment to live for Christ in whatever time we may be allowed on earth. Immaturity was obviously an underlying cause to the many problems in the church at Corinth, leaving them to be mere babes, called carnal Christians (1 Cor. 3:1-3). Most church pastoral labor is devoted to trying to help the immature or carnal believer, taking time away from the training of more committed saints, or neglecting the task of evangelism. Selfishness is at the root of most sinful behavior. The other defects which hinder churches are:

1. Lack of Spiritual Power. The sins mentioned above will certainly block the channel of God’s power in any life. Unsensed, unjudged, unconfessed sin must be rooted out of any life or body that presumes to ask for God’s blessing. God hides His face from us when we sin (Micah 3:4; Isa. 1:15). Godly men fear this. Unbelief or even that halfway place called doubt, prevents the mighty work of God (Matt. 14:29-31). This unbelief may be a factor in our failure to appropriate the promises of God. Complacency or apathy among God’s people has never done anything but hinder His work. In many places the people are not seriously concerned that there is a lack of the power of God among them. They may be aware of it but are not sufficiently concerned to do anything important that might bring about change.

2. Lack of Spiritual Leadership. Whenever God has moved in power, He has used human leaders. He does not need them, because He needs nothing. He simply chooses to use men as His method. It has been said that in the world we seek better methods, but God seeks better or more fully consecrated men. Ezekiel 22:30 records that God sought for a man to stand in the gap that the land should not be destroyed, but, significantly, found none. This implies that God is more willing than we think to seek and use any man who is available to be used. Leadership burdens are great. Involvement is costly. An easier way of living is more attractive. Many are fainthearted or unbelieving. Unless some are willing to stand forth and say, “Here am I, send me,” there will be no adequate leadership. Of course, these must be men who love the Lord, not prominence. These must be men who will pay any price, including all that is dear to them to do this (Luke 14:26,27; John 12:25,26). They need not be a Nehemiah or a Paul in ability, but they must walk the same path.

3. Lack of Prevailing Prayer. “Ask and keep on asking,” then “seek and keep on seeking,” then “knock and keep on knocking” is the force of the Lord’s words in Matthew 7:7. Then His answer shall be given, and the door shall be opened. Of course, no believer of limited consecration or faith would often be doing such a thing! This kind of intercession presupposes that the one praying has deep faith and spirituality. Faith and obedience to the will of God are conditions for answered prayer, and certainly necessary if we are to ask according to His will (1 John 5:14). Effective prayer must persevere, according to the teaching of the Lord (Luke 11:5-8; 18:1-7). The greater the challenge, the more needful it is that the one praying will not give up, when he is confident that the answer is within the bounds of God’s will. A major offensive in prayer must accompany effective spiritual warfare, and is indispensable to life flowing in the body.

4. Lack of Scriptural Love. When there is dedication to Christ and holiness of life as a result, then certainly it will be accompanied by love to God and to others. God-like love has been called the badge of discipleship (John 13:35). Love can be as superficial as an advertising slogan or a matter of words on the lips. Knowing the great hunger of people for love, it is tempting to talk more about it than to demonstrate it. We can also re-interpret love so that we end up with something other than what is meant in Scripture. Remember mat Scriptural love is sacrificial, as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus. It is others directed.

Utilizing Gifts For Life In The Body

How has the Lord provided for the growth and edification of His church? A major provision is that of spiritual gifts, which were bestowed on believers after His ascension to heaven. These gifts are spiritual abilities given to believers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry and for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13). Spiritual gifts help the believers serve in the assembly and mature in Christ. The Holy Spirit imparts at least one gift to every believer for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7), according to God’s mind, not man’s desire (1 Cor. 12:11). The desire for certain spiritual gifts which are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:1 has to do with the general desire of the congregation to have certain gifts, especially prophecy, operating within the assembly. Requests for personal reasons do not appear to be in view here.

There is a great diversity of these gifts, just as there are diversities among God’s people. Varied gifts are mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28, Romans 12:6-8, and 1 Peter 4:9-11. These gifts have been classified in various ways but such classifications are not inspired by God. However, they are helpful for discussion purposes.

One grouping might be called speaking gifts. Examples are teaching (Rom. 12:7; Eph. 4:11), evangelism and postering (Eph. 4:11), prophecy (which is not limited to foretelling the future)(l Cor. 12:28; Rom. 12:6), encouragement or exhortation (Rom. 12:8), and the word of wisdom or knowledge (1 Cor. 12:8). Apostleship would also be in this classification. Another group has been called the serving gifts. These include helps (1 Cor. 12:28), giving (Rom. 12:8), showing mercy (Rom. 12:8), faith (1 Cor. 12:9), leadership (Rom. 12:8), and discernment (1 Cor. 12:10). The greater emphasis on speaking gifts has often obscured the importance of the needed serving gifts. The most publicized gifts are called sign or signifying gifts. The purpose of these gifts was and is to accredit the presence and power of God through supernatural workings at certain times. These wonders were not normative (regularly functioning), nor were they designed to avoid the necessity of believing God’s Word. The sign gifts include miracles (1 Cor. 12:29), direct and immediate healing through certain individuals (1 Cor. 12:28), and tongues and their interpretation (1 Cor. 12:10). The Greek word for this gift is glossolalia, meaning a language ability conferred supernaturally without study. This gift was given to speak to unbelievers in their native language (Acts 2:1-11; 1 Cor. 14:21-23; Isa. 28:11,12). God spoke to them in this way because of their own unbelief of His Word when spoken in their own language.

Detailed discussion or controversies related to various issues about the gifts, especially the sign gifts, is a matter for a different writing than this. The purpose of this brief section is simply to say that gifts are given for the proper development of the congregation. They are not limited to speaking gifts, nor only for those we think are talented. Scriptures teach that all believers not only have gifts, but that they are to use them, not neglect them (1 Tim. 4:14). Such development requires a great deal of encouragement by the leadership. At least one way is to provide the believers with a listing of ministry opportunities in the assembly and to seek a commitment from each saint to actually function in some way, not to just be a weekly attender. Even the elderly and shut-ins can have a ministry in prayer. It is also important to have teaching on the subject of spiritual gifts, both to clarify misunderstandings and to encourage a response to God’s enablements to each believer for service. It is generally agreed among those concerned with the work of the church that unless there is a widespread mobilization of all the saints in the churches to serve the Lord, there will continue to be a lack of workers. This leads to the neglect of important needs.

Teaching The Word For Life In The Body

The powerful preaching and teaching of the Word of God is indispensable to vitality in an assembly. The growth of the church and the spread of its influence is plainly linked to the Word in Scripture (Acts 6:7; Heb. 4:12) “Preach the word…in season and out of season…” (2 Tim. 4:2). This is the means by which the Spirit of God regenerates, renews, nourishes, and cleanses the souls of men and women. The Bible is well called the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17).

Dynamic church life is regularly associated with strong preaching and systematic teaching. Many groups of saints have been starved through a lack of this. Individual believers will not become strong by listening to sermons or lessons without diligent personal study of the Word. However, studying is often stimulated by a strong teaching ministry at the meetings. One of the things that ought to be taught is the need for a daily personal devotional time with God. Personal discipleship or Bible classes ought to be used to teach people how to study and apply the Word of God to their lives.

Consecutive and systematic teaching of the Word, by those gifted to do this, should be a regular feature of assembly meetings. This should not be simply a weekly evangelistic message or some topical sermonettes strung together on a random basis. Some assemblies have seen the need for at least two hours a week of systematic input from the Word. One hour should be devoted to preaching consecutively and systematically through books of the Bible or major areas of doctrine. Another hour should be devoted to individualized classes which includes the elements of lecture, discussion, and skilled leadership. Such classes should minister to differing levels of maturity. These levels may range from an untaught beginner to a better instructed believer. Homework review, along with class input, discussion and lecture, is important to the success of this method.

Conclusion And Application

There will be life in the church when there is love for the Lord Jesus and dedication to His purposes among men. There will be life in the church when the believers love the church just as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25). The church should not be seen merely as a place where meetings are held on Sunday, but as a body of people with a corporate mission that goes on seven days a week. Sunday will be seen as the Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10). This verse coincides with early church identification of Sunday as the Lord’s Day. It should be as much devoted to God as the sabbath was to the Jew under the Ten Commandments, although in a different way. Sunday participation, however, will not excuse anyone from not serving God the other six days.

The church should be seen as an extension of Christ, just as the body is an extension of the head. It is not some subordinate claim upon our time or a competing demand upon personal or family life. The church should be seen as a collective body in which all the members are the vital and functioning parts. Finally, the church that has a true flow of the life of Jesus will look to the Lord for the full supply of all that is needed to make it a glorious church, not having spot, wrinkle or any such thing (Eph. 5:27). That goal will never be completed in this life, but the assembly should always be moving in that direction, never standing still. Church gatherings should always be an occasion of God’s blessing and encouragement to the saints.

Lesson 7 The Divine Life Of The Church

1. Read Ephesians 4:1-16 several times and consider its meaning for your assembly. What do you need to overcome factionalism in the church (w. 1-3)?

2. In what ways have some church leaders sought to obtain the appearance of a lively church without necessarily drawing upon power from God? Speak from your observations if possible.

3. List the three most pressing things that hinder spiritual life in your assembly. How can you help to change them?

4. List specifically what you can do to cooperate with the Spirit in bringing revival to your assembly.

5. Review the lists of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4:11, Romans 12:6-8, and 1 Peter 4:9-11. Do you feel that God has bestowed any of these gifts on you? Which ones and why?

6. What are you doing in your church to use your gifts? How and where could you begin to use and develop them? How are your leaders helping you to do this?

7. What are God’s goals for us as an assembly? (Eph. 4:13,14)

8. What steps would you suggest that the assembly leadership might take to increase the impact of the preaching and teaching ministry?

9. Do you have any questions or new insights about this topic you would like to share with us?