Lesson Ten – The Church

The Church

Lesson Aim:  To show how the church, when it functions as the body of Christ, affects the environment “in Christ” for Christians.


It was stated in the Introduction of this Part that Jesus Christ had the responsibility to evangelize, transfer and socialize people into God’s kingdom.  The key part of His strategy to accomplish His goals was to develop an organization unlike anything that had ever existed on earth.  This organization is the church of Christ, or church of God in Christ (Rom. 16:16: I Thess. 2:14).  He revealed His plan to His disciples in the following scripture:

And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’  And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.  And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.’  Matt. 16:16-18

People often speak of their niche in life.  Animals require specific ecological niches according to their kind.  God created many species of animals and He developed a habitat compatible for each species.  It is said by ecologists that habitat refers to their address and niche relates to their life-style in an ecosystem.  People also need a habitat and a niche.

Since God gave us the ability to reason and plan, we can manipulate our ecosystem.  This gives us a choice of habitats.  We can live in Alaska or Florida, Europe or Asia; however, we cannot arbitrarily choose our niche and still attain our unique potential.  God created us to be His children; consequently, when Satan caused sin and death to come into the world he “messed up” our spiritual niches.  The proper ecological niche for a living soul must have a correct balance of chemical, biological and physical factors.  Because God created us to be children in His eternal kingdom, we also need a very delicate spiritual niche.  When Jesus said He would build His church, He had this spiritual niche in mind.

The Greek word from which our English word “church” has been translated is ekklesia.  It means the “called out.” This is what Jesus meant when He said He would build His church.  In Lesson One we concluded two realms are necessary in order to have a “called out” people.  Church does not refer to the act of calling or transferring, it refers to those who, after the fact of being called and transferred, are the “called out.”  We are the church.  In this lesson we will study how the church, herself, contributes to a healthy spiritual niche for each member.


Jesus came to earth and purchased the church with His own blood; however, His teachings are about the kingdom (Acts 20:25-28).  This should cause Christian teachers to try to understand the way these two identifying terms relate to one another.  When we are able to understand how we preach the kingdom of God and cooperate with Jesus to build the church of God in Christ, or the church of Christ, we will know we have clarified ourselves to some degree.  Please review the Introduction to Part Three.  Philip went to Samaria and preached the kingdom of God and laid the foundation for the church of Christ (Acts 8:12; I Cor. 3:10).  Please note, this is not a proper name.  It does identify a certain people; however, this is only one identifying term in the New Testament.  The “certain people” it identifies are potential sons and daughters of God who are presently in fellowship with Him in His temple “in Christ.”  II Cor. 6:16-18.

If a nation was seeking more citizens than their birth rate could produce, they might try to proclaim the virtues of their kingdom to the citizens of other nations.  If some of these people were impressed, they might accept the call and change their habitat.  They would be the called out.  Similarly, the Apostle Paul went to Ephesus and preached the kingdom of God (Acts 19:8).  He laid the foundation for Christ’s church that functions as His body (Eph. 5:22-32).  In Colosse some people were transferred from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13).  They changed their habitat.  Paul later wrote to them from prison and identified them as the “faithful brothers in Christ.”  Col. 1:2.  They had a niche compatible with the source of their spirits (Heb. 12:9).

Jesus used the word “church” only three times in the Gospels.  Of course, His church had not been built at this time.  Please read Matt. 16:18; 18:17.  We can determine at least three principles about what Jesus built for our spiritual niches from these scriptures.  First, every member must believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  Jesus is the foundational cornerstone (I Cor. 3:11; I Pet. 2:6-9).  Belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is the “rock” Jesus said He would build His church upon (I Cor. 10:4: Heb. 11:39, 40).  It was not Peter.  Secondly, the church is a divine family.  We are the household of God (Eph. 2:19; Heb. 2:11-13).  From Ephesians 2:6 and II Peter 1:11, we understand Christians are seated in heavenly places in the entrance of God’s Kingdom.  We have not inherited the kingdom yet but we hope to after Judgment Day (Jas. 2:5).  Thirdly, the church refuses the fellowship of wilful sinners.  Paul asked, “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?”  I Cor. 5:6.

Although, Jesus did not mention the church in John 15:1-9, a unique construction principle of the church is found in this discourse about the vine and branches.  This is the foreshadowing imagery for the church functioning as the body of Christ (Col. 1:18).  Paul used Jesus’ model in order to identify the present “Israel of God” as the church of God in Romans 11:16-26.  See Gal. 6:16; Phil. 3:3.  When he wrote to the church of God at Corinth he said, “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”  I Cor. 1:9.  Then he said, “...and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.”  I Cor. 3:23.  Paul clarified these scriptures and alluded to the principle of Jesus’ vine and branches in the following declaration.

For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.  For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.  For the body is not one member, but many.  I Cor. 12:12-14

As the king over the man-dimension of God’s kingdom, Jesus must call people from the kingdom of Satan so He can develop children for God.  In order to accomplish this He set up a spiritual climate where He would be able to re-socialize, or conform, born again sinners to His own image.  This climate is suitable for re-developing any type person who would believe, repent and obey His call.  Jesus built the church for this purpose.

To understand His church we must understand, not only the two realm concept, but the theology of Christ’s body.  Christ’s strategy is to use true faithful believers to spiritually develop His body.  Paul declared this when he said, “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Rom. 12:5.  A Christian can think of herself or himself as an individual, but only in the context that we are “individually members one of another.”  We cannot think of Jesus Christ without His body.  We must see Jesus and His church as one single unit.  Paul used the Greek word agape, translated love, to define both marriage and the church.  “This is a great mystery; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”  Eph. 5:32He wanted to present the church of God in Corinth as a virgin bride to Christ (II Cor. 11:2).  We cannot properly think of marriage, or the church, if love is not the core of the fellowship (Rom. 12:9-13).

Now we can understand why Christians are entreated to walk in a manner worthy of our calling and strive to keep the unity of Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).  When we view the church as the body of Christ and all Christians as members of the body, we can also appreciate what Paul meant when he said to the Corinthians, “And thus, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”  I Cor. 8:12.

The individualism that appears to be inherent in the Western culture may cause many people to be unable to either comprehend or be willing to fully accept the church Jesus built.  We may not be able to keep from thinking more highly or individualistically of ourselves than we ought to think (Rom. 12:3-5).  We are challenged to think of the church as one unit, and that unit is Christ Jesus.  Christians form His body.  This is where we will find our niche, and any other niche will not be ideal for our nature.  This is our life according to the thought in the following scripture:

For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.  Col. 3:3, 4

Not only are we asked to function in Christ’s body as one of many members, we are asked to let Jesus direct our thinking about life.  He is the head; we are one member of His body.  We hold fast to the head (Col. 2:19).  We take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  II Cor. 10:5.

Why did Jesus choose this unique type of structure to form a spiritual niche for Christians?  This is the aim of this lesson.  Some people feel better by simply attending a few worship services; after all, inhibited people do not feel comfortable in the presence of others.  Individualistically inclined people certainly do not want to join others to form a single unit.  Nevertheless, this is how Jesus structured His church.  He built only one.  Since Jesus understands us perfectly, we must assume the church He built is compatible with our nature.  Therefore, we believe individualistic and inhibited people need help.  The church helps us overcome our inhibitions and pride (Jas. 1:9, 10; Phil. 2:1-4).

In our previous studies in Part Five, we have understood the doctrine of the new birth, justification and sanctification.  We have learned about Jesus’ role as king and priest and the Holy Spirit’s personal indwelling.  We learned how God blesses us as our Father and also the power of truth on those “in Christ,” but all these blessings are not enough for Jesus’ sanctification or re-socialization program.  The church Jesus is continually building functions as an organization of believers to develop sons and daughters for God.  It demands the cooperation of willing people.  He uses Christians as members of His body to add a very necessary dimension for the maturing of children of God.  Consider these scriptures.

Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.  Col. 2:18, 19

But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.  Eph. 4:15, 16

There is something needed to form a niche for God’s children that God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit  does not supply.  The blessing we need is “that which every joint supplies.”  The joints in our body are the points where our main elements meet.  In the church where one Christian’s life touches another are the joints Paul probably had in mind in the foregoing scriptures.  The question we need answered at this point is:  “What is every joint supposed to supply in the Lord’s church?”  Then we will ask, “How will this serve us in our sanctification?”

What is every joint supposed to supply?   The answer to this question is simple – Whatever Jesus has commanded us to do for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  For instance, after we have carefully studied Romans 12:9-21 we understand each member supplies brotherly love.  We value our brothers and sisters without making a difference in classes of people.  We share the joys and sorrows of the members.  We contribute to their needs.  We are hospitable.  We strive to overcome evil with good and leave vengeance for the Lord.

Since we know love covers a multitude of sins, we will seek to knit together with the other members in love (Col. 2:2; I Pet. 4:8).  The church will put on “the list” those who are widows indeed (I Tim. 5:5).  We will dress modestly and lift up holy hands (I Tim. 2:8, 9).  If one of our brothers or sisters stray from the truth, or is caught up in any trespass, we will try to restore them in a spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19, 20).  We will install proper leaders and respect them (I Tim. 5:17-20).  We will bless all members of the body by assembling together to provoke them to love and good works (Heb. 10:24, 25).  Yes, we will even supply the body of Christ with discipline by withdrawing fellowship from those who do not obey the instructions of our Lord (Rom. 16:17).  We will not grow weary in well doing (II Thess. 3:11-15).  Finally, we will try to put off our bad traits and develop healthy emotional attitudes.  We will admonish one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col. 3:8-16).

We can see Christ’s church, the one He had in mind when He said, “I will build my church,” cannot become a reality without the members’ cooperation.  Jesus purchased the church with His blood but He does not hold it together (Acts 20:28).  We cannot buy what will hold it together by hiring a preacher and staff, we must be it.  Because Jesus understood the nature of mankind, He organized the church to function as His body (John 2:24, 25).  He knew, as the following scripture suggests, that “no man is an island.”

For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.  For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.  You, then, why do you judge your brother?  Or why do you look down on your brother?  We will all stand before God’s judgment seat.  Rom. 14:7-10

We cannot live for Jesus outside His church.  Jesus does not exist for us outside the structure of the church except as our judge on the Day of Judgment.  To hurt the church is to hurt Jesus’ work.

So then let us pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.  Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food.  All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.  Rom. 14:19, 20

The scriptures used in this lesson describe a church suitable for a spiritual niche for the development of children of God.  Remember, our niche in the body of Christ must be of such spiritual value that it can receive children of the devil and develop them into people like Jesus.  The test of our lesson is based upon one great principle.  We cannot speak of life, as in eternal life, without speaking of a relationship between members of the church and God.  For instance, it is impossible to socialize a human being into a society, unless he or she associates with the people of that society.  Most, if not all, of the traits that are life principles demand a relationship with other beings.

We cannot practice brotherly love unless there is someone to love.  We cannot have compassion on “a nothing.”  Love is a life principle.  Consequently, we can assume the closer the members of a church are able to blend their faithful lives, the closer we are to the church we read about in the Bible.  In other words, there is no room for the promotion of hermits and ascetics in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There is room for our own physical family but we need to be drawn into an eternal relationship with other Christians (Luke 14:26).  We must function in the spiritual family because it is eternal (I Pet. 1:2-25).

We must not be recluses, because this is against the way God put us together; however, we must not be manipulated or deceived, because “Bad company corrupts good morals.” (I Cor. 15:33).  This is why Jesus established His church.  He called us out of bad company, so we can develop primary relationships with righteous people.  Primary relationships are those relationships where people are intimate with one another.  We weep and rejoice with one another.  Secondary relationships alone are not enough to form healthy human niches.  The friendly postman and store clerk relationships are great but we need primary relationships for human development.  Since one of Jesus’ goals for us is primary relationships, we find the conditions that will develop these relationships in the church.  Paul and the church at Philippi had a primary relationship.  In the following scripture he lists the basis for their relationship.

For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.  For God is my witness, how I long for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.  And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.  Phil. 1:7-10

Paul had them in his heart and they had love for one another and him (Phil. 4:15).  The condition that developed this relationship was built on at least three principles.  One, they were partakers of something together (v. 7).  Two, they had a common goal; they were waiting for Jesus to return (v. 10).  These two principles caused them to be one in spirit and one in mind (Phil. 1:27).  The third principle is a result of the first two.  They suffered and rejoiced together (Phil. 1:29, 30).  We can see the relationship Paul had with the churches did not just happen.  It was built on these three principles; consequently, when relationships are formed on them, we do not need to be concerned about developing primary relationships.  It will happen naturally.

Our understanding of Jesus’ church will surely cause us to make use of these three principles for the development of primary relationships.  These are the relationships that hold the church together.  They can be supplied by the joints only.  Joints are where the lives of Christians meet and intertwine.  We have primary relationships with God, also.  This type of church is vital to the mental environment of a Christian.  It is one of the spiritual blessings in Christ.  This is the only kind of church Jesus will claim.  A church functioning like a club or secular group is not the church our Lord established.

When we check our list of that “which every joint supplies” in the church, we will find the items will satisfy our innate need for sociability.  In other words, a human being has certain native needs that can only be satisfied by a proper relationship with other people.  When the church functions as the body of Christ, it will provide our human need to express our feelings freely to another human being.  We need to lay out our hearts for others who will not exploit us.  Paul encouraged the churches to excel in this matter (I Thess. 4:9, 10).

The church gives us something “to hold onto” that is larger than ourselves.  Man is not designed to be a total unit alone.  Even in heaven we will be fitted into the kingdom of God as His sons.  In the church we “who are weak” are a part of something strong (II Cor. 13:4).  It is important for us to belong to something for the sake of belonging.  We have a human need to help others; even though we need help from the Lord (II Cor. 1:5-7).  This need stimulates nurturing behavior.  We have a need to have others accept us and tell us of our worth.  The Lord tells us of our worth to Him but He knows we need to hear it from others (Rom. 14:1).  The Lord uses the church to maintain security for food and shelter for each member should the need arise.  We are not humiliated by begging.  The Lord’s church is structured to serve these natural human needs in the best fashion.

Perhaps this study will help us to view the church in a more inclusive way than we have in the past.  We must look at the church as one single unit with us in it.  The church is the temple of God but we can break it down into components.  Jesus is the head and Christians unite to form His body.  If we sin against the brethren we sin against Christ (I Cor. 8:11, 12).  The body of Christ is made up of members who receive their instructions from the head and their sociability from the church.  Of course, we also have fellowship with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit.  This is important because our brothers and sisters may let us down, but God will not.  We depend upon the body of Christ, of which we are a member, to provide for us our spiritual niche while we are on earth.  The church answers our social needs.  This will help us to conform to the image of Christ.

The church is now being prepared as the bride of Christ.  What a niche!

“Hallelujah!  For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.  Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clear; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Rev. 19:6-8

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why did Jesus establish His church?
  2. Define a niche and a habitat.
  3. What is mankind’s rightful niche?
  4. How did Satan “mess up” our niche?
  5. Define the word “church” as it is used in the Bible.
  6. List three building principles we learned from Jesus’ limited use of the word “church” in the Gospels.
  7. How does Jesus’ words “vine” and “branches” foreshadow the church?
  8. Explain how we sin against Christ when we sin against the brethren?
  9. What is an inherent problem with the Western culture that might give us trouble with accepting Christ’s church?
  10. Name the blessing for Christians in the church that Deity does not provide.
  11. Make a list of the blessings “which every joint supply.”
  12. What is a good point to consider if we desired to “check out” a group of people in relation to the church in the New Testament?
  13. Name the kind of relationship needed to satisfy our need for sociability?
  14. How will the church be dressed when Jesus returns to receive her as His bride?

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