Governing Principles for Building Up the Body of Christ

by Thomas W. Finley

Lesson 1


In the church Christ is everything. This spiritual concept is hard for the natural mind to grasp. One may immediately react by thinking, “if Christ alone is the content of the body, then where are the believers?” The believers are all there - as members of His body. However, according to Biblical revelation, it is not the natural person of the believer that is there. It is the spiritual person, the believer who has died with Christ and now has Christ as his very life (Col. 3:2-3).

In the new man the old, natural characteristics of believers do not exist, but rather: “there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11). This verse speaks of the spiritual reality of our union with Christ, being “in Christ.” But what is true concerning the church according to spiritual reality is also to become true of her in experience.

Paul revealed the mystery of the church in the first two and one half chapters of Ephesians. Paul wrote that God gave Christ to be “head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). Then, based upon this revelation he prayed for the Ephesian believers that they would experience the reality of this vision:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height - to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:14-19)

The answer to this prayer would be this result: “to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus” (Eph. 3:21).

What I am saying is that it is God's intention that Christ be the building element of the church. This truth was revealed in the opening chapters of the Bible, where Eve, a type of the church, was fashioned by God entirely from the rib of Adam, a type of Christ. Therefore, any true assembly of God on this earth must possess a Christ that is living, a Christ that is experienced daily by its members in order that the church may be built up. Above all, the members of the assembly must learn to live in union with Christ. It is easy to substitute religious activity for this priority.

Today in Christendom there is an attempt to increase the membership and outward “vitality” of the church through programs and activities, even often supposedly aimed at spiritual goals. Unfortunately, even Bible reading, Christian meetings, singing, teaching the Bible, preaching, helping others, or other service to the Lord can all be done apart from the living Christ. Those with discernment can sense that much of the Christian activity today stems from the natural ideas, abilities, ways and energy of men, not from the source of Christ Himself. From beginning to end the Scripture records the ideas and efforts of man to “do something” for God, and these efforts of the flesh (the natural man) always end with damage to God’s testimony. Nimrod (“a mighty hunter before Jehovah”) and others built a worship tower in Babel (Gen. 11); Abraham employed fleshly means to fulfill God’s promise through Hagar (Gen. 16); Aaron (the high priest) and the children of Israel fashioned a golden calf and celebrated “a feast to Jehovah” (Ex. 32); Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord (Lev. 10); the elders and people of Israel rejected God as their king and chose a man, Saul, for leadership, according to the practice of the nations (1 Sam. 8); Saul acted foolishly in offering sacrifice in disobedience to the command to wait for Samuel to offer the sacrifice (1 Sam. 13); Saul preserved the best things of the Amalekites (a type of the flesh) to sacrifice to the Lord, in disobedience to God’s command to destroy them all (1 Sam. 15); the children of Israel mixed pagan practices with the worship of Jehovah as they sacrificed on the “high places” (2 Kin. 14-17); the people mixed pagan idols and worship with temple worship, precipitating the destruction of the temple and the exile to Babylon (Ezek. 8); the Corinthians defiled God’s church with carnal and divisive preferences for leaders (1 Cor. 3); the legalists bewitched the saints into keeping the law by the effort of the flesh as the way of progress in the Christian life (Gal. 3); those influenced by Gnosticism or other beliefs brought in false human philosophies that threatened damage to the truth and true fellowship (Col. 2; 1 John).

We must take instruction from the Lord. When He called Zerubbabel and the remnant back to Jerusalem to rebuild the testimony of His house, God told them the way that it must be done: “‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,” says the Lord of hosts’” (Zech. 4:6). The “might” and the “power” speak of the abilities of man, in contrast to the power of the Holy Spirit.

The natural man, apart from Christ, has many capabilities, such as organizational abilities, leadership abilities, creative abilities, musical or artistic abilities, speaking abilities, intellectual abilities, and energetic abilities (will power) to carry out programs and plans. Yet, it is only as we agree to die to our natural capabilities and strength and wait upon the Lord for His leading, and deeply depend upon Him for His power, that we can avoid the pitfall of attempting to “build the church” by the effort of the flesh. Sadly, this willingness to die to self and wait in dependence upon God is missing in much of Christian service today. May the Lord deepen our dependence upon Him and our knowing of Him so that we may live in the reality of our union with Him. We must have “Christ as all” the content of our living and doing in our assembly life.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

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