Governing Principles for Building Up the Body of Christ

by Thomas W. Finley


Most serious Christians know that the church is not a building on the corner. The Greek word for church is ekklesia, which means an assembly of called out ones. This assembly of God's chosen people is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). There are many truths relating to the body of Christ, but here I would like to examine some foundational truths that are particularly crucial to the matter of building up the body of Christ. All sincere believers want to be useful to God. If believers have spiritual insight they will recognize that all service to God has an ultimate aim - the building up of the body of Christ. This is true because it is in God’s eternal purpose, planned in eternity and hidden for ages (but now revealed), to have a corporate body for Christ (Eph. 3:4-11). It is in this corporate body, composed of God’s people, that Christ is to be expressed, that is, lived out.

When we speak of the building up of the body of Christ let us not think that this means “church growth,” as is often promoted today. Simply to have more attendees in a meeting or on a church roll is not the edification of which we speak. Nor is this edification just the spiritual growth or discipleship of individual believers, although that is involved. In fact, the Scripture indicates that there can be a distinction between the building up of the individual Christian and the body of Christ (1 Cor. 14:4). The building up of the body involves the ministry of the members of the body to the other members of the body, although evangelism to unbelievers is also included (1 Cor. 12:7; 14:4, 5, 12, 26; Eph. 4:12, 16; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11). The result of true building up is manifested in two ways: oneness among the believers and the mature expression of the life of Christ (Eph. 4:13). The true building up involves the ministry of Christ by all the members of the body that knits them together in oneness and brings them into a mature expression of Christ’s person. He becomes manifest among them in a unified, corporate way. This is the goal of the local assembly.

If there are indeed principles of truth which govern this matter of building up the body of Christ, then it is only logical, and indeed spiritual, that our labor in the Lord must be in accord with these principles. Surely our God expects us to build “according to the pattern” He has established. He instructed Moses to be sure to build the tabernacle (a picture of the church) according to what God had shown to him on the mountain (Ex. 25:9, 40). It is very possible that as you read this booklet you will discover that Christians today, perhaps yourself, are not always “building” according to God’s principles. May we humble ourselves and seek His grace to change our ways when we realize that we have been wrong. If we do not, how can we expect God to produce His goal of the oneness and maturity of Christ’s body in our assembly? And, how can we expect Christ’s approval at His Judgment Seat (2 Cor. 5:10)?

This booklet will discuss six principles for building up the body of Christ. These six principles are: Christ is all; Christ is the head; oneness; the body builds up itself; building up in love; building up through the cross. These truths will be seen as applying both to the universal body of Christ and to the local assembly, the place where we actually labor to serve and build up the body. Although we separate these principles for discussion, one will observe that there is overlap in the living out of these principles. No principle strictly stands on its own but is interwoven with other principles.

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And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)