The New Testament teaches us that even though we will each individually stand in judgment, the growth and development of the church depends on all of us working together. In Eph. 4:11-16 Paul spoke of the various works that the Lord placed within the church for the purpose of building it up. We recognize most of these as areas of leadership within the church, such as evangelists, pastors (elders), and teachers. However, at the end of this passage we see that every member of the church is expected to contribute to this process. In vs. 15, 16 he said, “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 what 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.”
It is easy to speak of the church in the third person, as in “they” are doing this or that. When one speaks of the church in this manner he has taken the position of an outsider. Whether he realizes it or not, he has effectively separated himself from the church and from its work. He is a spectator, rather than a participant. He may still want the church to grow and prosper, but his manner of expression shows that he expects others to make this happen.
Knowing that the scriptures call upon each of us to do our individual part to contribute to the good of the church, we need to ask ourselves a series of questions. What if everyone in the church were just like me? What if everyone in the church attended worship and Bible study like me? What if everyone sang and prayed and contributed of their means like me? What if everyone listened to and applied the sermons like me? What if everyone lived their faith like me, or shared their faith like me? What would happen to the church then?
For some of us this would mean that we could never depend on anyone showing up for worship on the Lord’s day. It would mean that when they did show up, they would sit silently during the singing, and doze during the preaching, and pass the collection plate without putting anything in. It would mean that no one would be able to tell that we belong to Christ, and the lost would never hear the gospel. It’s a frightening thought, or at least it should be.
The man who said the church grows because of what every joint supplies, and by the proper working of each individual part, demonstrated this truth in his own life. Paul the apostle truly put the kingdom of Christ first in his life. He devoted himself to doing everything within his power and ability to further the gospel and to cause the church to grow. Consequently he could honestly say to his readers, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
To whatever degree we may have been treating the church as “they” instead of “we,” we need to repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. The church’s growth will be helped or hindered by what each one of us does in the Lord’s service. The church as a whole will not cease to exist, even if everyone in it is just like its fringe members. But, the church will not be able to effectively fulfill its purpose until each one of us takes ownership of his or her place within it.
Let us resolve to follow Paul’s example so we too may encourage others to imitate our life of service in the glorious church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.