Putting The Body To Work
“Oh, another one!”. Those were the words of a TFT member, spoken in jest, at a recent conference after I told them I’m studying part-time for a graduate diploma in theology. I’m not sure if the proportion of Christians who experience SSA that go on to study theology is statistically abnormal, but I’ve enjoyed doing something that has been on my heart for a number of years.
As part of the course, I have to attend a couple of week-long residential events each year. At one of these, one of the faculty said something that struck me. He talked about the rising trend in recent decades of students having a mentor to support them in their studies. He encouraged us to go further and surround ourselves with a whole team of people to help see us through. While a mentor would have a place in this team, there is a need for others too. We would need the prayer buddy, the intellectual sparring partner and the person who will hold us accountable for putting some effort into writing essays etc.
The broad principle here seems to be that of putting the body of Christ to work. I was reminded of Ephesians 4:16: “From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” This passage shows that each of us has a role to play in contributing to the health and growth of the body as a whole. It isn’t just in studies that it would be wise to surround ourselves with a network of supporters. The principle can be applied more broadly to our whole Christian walk.
Earlier in the chapter, we read how the Lord has equipped us to be able to support one another in this way: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Hands and feet are examples of two things that may look similar, and are indeed of the same substance, but are also very different and serve different functions. The same is true of the body of Christ. Most of us find we have a ‘default’ mode. That is, there are particular areas in which we feel gifted to serve. For example, some feel particularly able to come alongside others in prayer. Some are able to communicate the truths of Scripture with a clarity that aids the understanding of those who may struggle. And some can help with those pesky ‘life admin’ tasks. The list goes on. God adopts us into a family with the ability to support us, both spiritually and practically, in all sorts of ways.
Since hearing what my lecturer had to say on this, I’ve been feeling challenged to be more intentional about building these kinds of relationships. When I was at university a friend and I committed to getting together every Wednesday afternoon to catch up and pray for one another. They were great times of refocusing ourselves on God, and I found that the commitment to pray together with another believer also helped me with individual prayer too. Of course, prayer is just one of the areas in which we grow in Christian maturity. How much better would it be if we were able to learn from, emulate and enjoy the gifting of a wider group of brothers and sisters around us?
Perhaps this vision sounds idealistic, but could this be one thing that makes Christian community look distinctive against a cultural backdrop of individualism? John 13:35 talks about the disciples of Jesus being known by their love for one another. Our love for one another should be something that sets us apart. We can powerfully model this love by using our God-given gifts to serve and be served. And in doing so, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15)
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend.