Governing Principles for Building Up the Body of Christ

by Thomas W. Finley

Lesson 5


“From whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4:16)

We can certainly see some overlap in this governing principle with other principles, especially the principle of oneness. However, the importance of love in the building up of the body cannot be overly stressed. As we attempt to actually build up the local body of Christ together with other believers, we will learn that love is indispensable. Let us look at some verses that will give us insight on this principle. As we do this, let us be reminded what constitutes the real “building up” of the body. The “building up” involves the ministry of Christ to one another in the body that unites us and brings the body as a whole into a mature state.

One might think that the ministry of Christ to others for the building up would be just a matter of exercising spiritual gifts in faith. But, according to the following passage, this is not so.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Cor. 13:1-3)

If we are to practice the “body life” we very much need love, God’s love. By the “body life” I mean a fellowship of believers who are related to one another in a mutually dependent way, as are the members of our physical body. These believers will practice caring for one another spiritually and practically, being involved in each others lives. Gifts alone are not sufficient because all the members of the body are genuine people. People need love. Also, because none of us are yet perfected in this life we can easily be tempted to interact with others according to our old dispositions. We can become impatient with the ways of others. We can be offended by others when they mistreat us (according to our perspective). Those who hold onto offenses will tend to separate from those who caused offense. Our pride can keep us from admitting our faults when relationships become strained. Pride can also keep us from associating with our “lowly” brothers and sisters in Christ (Rom. 12:16). An attitude of self-pleasing can keep us from caring for the weaker or less attractive members of His body (1 Cor. 12:22-25). We may be self-seeking instead of willing to sacrifice our interests for the benefit of others or the body as a whole (Phil. 2:3, 4). Such self-seeking can even be seen in the tendency to group together with those that are like us. That is, we may desire to gather only with others who think like us doctrinally, or with whom we have race or culture or social position in common. All of these attitudes will tend to drive us apart instead of uniting us with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But unity, a vital part of the building up, is what God wants us to actually experience in the local body life. Love is a key to unity.

“But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection” (Col. 3:14). The Greek word for “bond” here means that which binds together, and is used of the ligaments in the body in Col. 2:19. The Amplified version reads: “And above all these [put on] love and enfold yourselves with the bond of perfectness – which binds everything together completely in ideal harmony” (Col. 3:14, AMP). So, it is God’s love within us that unites us together. God’s love overwhelmingly conquers every divisive tendency within the body of Christ. We can see this in the great love passage in 1 Cor. 13:

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely; does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)

Not only is love vitally linked to the unity of the body, but it is also linked to the growth of the body. “But speaking the truth in love, [we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ” (Eph. 4:15). This must be so because there is no real growth in Christ without the experiential knowledge of His love. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:16b).

So we see that love is integral to the building up of the body in its two critical characteristics: unity and maturity (Eph. 4:12-13). It is for this reason we can understand Paul’s prayer in Ephesians chapter three. That prayer for the Ephesian believers was based upon the foregoing revelation of the body of Christ. In that prayer, there was a focus upon those believers actually experiencing the love of Christ so that God could realize His goal for the church there to manifest Christ. Part of this marvelous prayer is as follows:

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. 3:17-19)

We must have a heart to love all the members of His body equally in order to build up the body of Christ. “That there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another” (1 Cor. 12:25). “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (Jn. 13:34). The Bible uses a special Greek word for God’s love, as distinguished from normal human love. That word is agape. Agape love is not a love based upon emotion, but upon the will. Nor is agape love one which expects at least some response in return from the one loved, as does human love. Rather, agape love, which describes the love of God Himself, is a sacrificial love, which seeks the benefit of the other person, regardless of the other person’s response. May God grant us to see the critical importance of love in the body life, and may He grant us to experience His love towards all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

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)