Lesson 3 – The Church

The Church

Lesson Aim:     To show how the individual talents of different Christians are brought together in the church to function in the body of Christ.

Scripture:  Romans 12:3-8.


The church of Christ the Apostle Paul referred to in Romans 16:16 was a group of people who were previously in Satan’s kingdom of darkness.  They were “called out” of Satan’s dominion by the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16; Acts 20:25).  The church identified with Jesus Christ who called them with His good news (Eph. 1:22, 23).  The Greek word “ekklesia” is translated church and literally means “that which is called out.”  They inhabited the “in Christ” realm and were known individually as Christians and saints (Acts 11:26; Rom. 1:7). 

The realm identified as “in Christ” is mentioned several times in Ephesians, chapter one.  It is where Jesus Christ reigns over His Father’s kingdom (John 18:36; Heb. 1:8).  Jesus preached His Father’s kingdom while on earth (Luke 4:43).  Paul preached the kingdom of God every where he preached the gospel (Acts 19:8; 20:25).  The people who understood the message and chose to live by faith were transferred into the kingdom of God (Col. 1:13, 14).  They were obedient to that form of doctrine taught to them about how to enter the kingdom (Rom. 6:17). 

The message of the kingdom and the calling to all sinners to feast in this kingdom is the gospel (Luke 14:15, Rom. 1:16).  This gospel and only this gospel has the power to save mankind from Satan’s kingdom of darkness (Gal. 1:6-9; Acts 4:12).  Jesus has been given all rule and authority by His Father over the kingdom of God and Christ (Eph. 5:5).  This is how we can understand the biblical concept of church.  This is how we understand how Jesus is head of the church and Christians are His body.  It is not possible to biblically speak of Jesus building His church without first preaching the kingdom of God.  We cannot biblically use the word “church” without understanding the existence of the kingdom of Satan (Acts 26:18).  This kingdom of God is the “big picture” into which the church of Christ is perceived.  There is a universal church of God in Christ and its head is in heaven – not Rome.  Catholic means universal.  Universal is the way Paul spoke of the church in Ephesian 1:22, 23. 

The “called out people,” or church, were addressed as the church of God several times in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians.  This indicates the biblical identifying terms for the church was not intended to be a proper name for the church.  It identifies a people who were in the kingdom of Satan but have now been transferred to the kingdom of God.  Paul reminded the Corinthian church this had happened to them in their new birth; therefore, they should not any longer be “yoked together” with outsiders in their practices (I Cor. 5:9-12; II Cor. 6:14-18).  Groups of Christians form a designated congregation of called out people.  This is referred to as a church.  Paul wrote II Corinthians to the church of God in Corinth but he acknowledged there were other churches of God in Achaia.  Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia (Gal. 1:2).  Churches in this context referred to different bodies of Christ who were members of the church of Christ, or God “in Christ.”  I Corinthians was address to a specific group of Christians in Corinth.  They were addressed as God’s church. 

Many different words have been used in all the New Testament documents to identify the individual members of the church; however, the present identification of each member is son or daughter.  One reason the Holy Spirit has been given to fellowship individual Christians is to help us accept this identification (Rom. 8:16).  This is a great step in our spiritual growth.  The eternal identification of God’s people is sons of God (Heb. 2:10).  If a group of Christians, a church, desires to put up a sign board to tell others who is meeting at a specific address it is scriptural to use any term used by the writers of the New Testament.  It might shock the world, but the term best indentifying God’s people today would be “children of God.”  Heb. 2:12, 13.  This would include the mature sons and daughters, as well as the young immature people who meet with you (Luke 18:16, 17).                  

There were many congregations; however, collectively Paul identified them as churches of Christ, or churches of God in Christ (Rom. 16:16; I Thess. 2:14).  A study of the book of Acts and the letters will reveal how individual Christians gathered together under one leadership, the eldership (Acts 14:23; 20:28).  The group, or congregation, was referred to as a church (Rom. 16:1).  This is not the name of a group of Christians.  It does show who called the Christians out of Satan’s kingdom and into Christ’s administration of God’s kingdom.  They had been called out by the gospel of Christ and into Christ where all spiritual blessing have been made available through the new covenant (Eph. 1:3; 2:6; Heb. 8:10-12). 

In our lesson text each church was exhorted to function as a single unit similar to a physical body.  “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”  Romans 12:5.  The body concept tells us how intimately the church is expected to function in relation to the head.  Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the church (Col. 1:18).  The two words refer to the same group of people but have a different connotation.  Christians are the “called out” but we are more than a group of called out people.  We are the body of Christ.

What is the difference?   The Apostle Paul gave us our answer in Romans 12:5 when he said, “and individually members one of another.”  We are more than members of the church of Christ.  We are members one of another.  This phrase is not generally applied to secular organizations.  In the church there is an interaction of all living beings.  This inter-relationship contributes something to the body, whether it be a person’s body or a church.  Love is the result in the body of Christ:

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

Please notice the phrase “that which every joint supplies.”  What is this something?  Love is supplied by members of the church when we function as a body with Christ as the head.  The practice of love is the way Christians become love.  Love becomes a part of our “self.”  A church that does not function as a body does not enjoy what every joint supplies.  When a church functions as a mere organization rather than the spiritual body of Christ, the members generally do not have “the same care for one another.”  Jesus does not desire His body to be divided.

That there should be no division in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.  Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.  I Cor. 12:25-27

The church of Christ is held together by what every “joint” supplies (I Pet. 4:10).  We are not held together by a board of directors.  We are not held together by a charismatic holy man or talented speechmaker (I Cor. 2:4, 5; 12:3).  When a church functions as the body of Christ, the very nature of Jesus is developed in each member.  The members have the same thoughts and mind and this is the mind of Christ (I Cor. 1:10; 2:16).  The design of the church is truly the body of Christ because Christ is the head.  Therefore, the usage of the word “body” is not just an illustration of the way the church functions;  the church is in reality the body of Christ in this world – another good sign board.

Spiritually, we are the body of Christ, and He is our head.  We are members one of another.  We rejoice together, we cry together.  When one member rejoices or hurts the whole body rejoices or hurts with her or him.  We do not do these things just because we are supposed to do them but because we are members of a real spiritual body.  This is part of the new thinking of a Christian during his transformation.  It is our spiritual sanctification program directed by the Holy Spirit for Jesus (II Thess. 2:13, 14).

In order to prove the will of God is good, acceptable, and perfect, each member must have sound judgment.  I, personally, need to accept a role as a member of this great body of Christ.  When I accept this role, I will function to the very best of my ability.  I must not think more highly of myself than I ought to think.  I ought to think highly of myself, but no more highly than I ought to think.   Where is the dividing line?  I have come to recognize I have ability to serve in one of the several ways listed in our text.  However, I also recognize my power to perform these tasks is in direct proportion to my own faith and competence.  Therefore, to have sound judgment means to recognize I have the ability to serve, but the source of my strength to do this service comes from God.   See Rom. 12:3.

For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive?  But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?  I Cor. 4:7

The Corinthian church was encouraged to acknowledge the source of their power.  Boasting is excluded when we recognize it is our faith in God’s blessings that makes us what we are “in Christ.”  The wisdom of God is revealed in the way He has organized the church.

Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever.  Amen.  Eph. 3:20, 21

The church is designed to accomplish many things, God is glorified.  The world is evangelized.  His wisdom and mysteries are revealed (Eph. 3:10).

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is Acts 26:18 important to the understanding of how the word “church” is used in the Bible?
  2. Explain the term “in Christ” as it relates to the church of Christ and the kingdom of Christ.
  3. Explain how a sinner is accepted as a member of the church and at the same time is transferred into the kingdom of God.
  4. What was always included when the Apostle Paul preached the gospel of Jesus Christ?
  5. As the various churches of Christ were formed what type of leadership was ordained by Jesus?
  6. In what sense is the term “church of Christ” not a proper name?
  7. What is the spiritual and physical value in the way the church functions as the body of Christ?
  8. Does the concept of the church as the body of Christ apply more to an individual church or the churches collectively?
  9. What would be missing if a church functioned only as an organization?
  10. Jesus is the head of the body of members of the church.  What holds the body together?
  11. Is it reasonable to think God is happy with the religious division we encounter in the world?
  12. What is the individual responsibility of each person who has been transferred to the kingdom?

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