About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Functional Relationships
In The Body Of Christ






1 - Functional Relationships

2 - Relational And Functional Joints

3 - Horizontal And Vertical Relationship

4 - Joints Outside Of Church Organization

5 - Church Is A Body Of People

6 - Joined To Jesus





To begin, I would like to say that it is my opinion
  that the term "the Body of Christ" that the Apostle
 Paul uses in his letters is not a symbolic term.  
I believe Paul is using this term to be a present 
day reality.  Jesus left this planet but 
before He left He told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:1 - 7)  His disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2.  When that took place the community of believers became the living replacement Body of Christ here on earth.  As Jesus represented His Father hereon earth, so the 120 disciples, and those after them, represent Jesus on earth.


In short, because the Holy Spirit came to the individual believer and to the community of believers as a whole, we are literally Jesus' replacement body on earth.  I suggest we don't view the Body of Christ as being either symbolic or analogous.  



1 - Functional Relationships


The Apostle Paul says that those of us who have given ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ are parts of the Body of Christ.  Sometimes I think we’re just a big pile of mismatched bones thrown on top of each other in a meeting room, and those on the bottom of the pile are beginning to suffocate for lack of spiritual oxygen.  


First of all, we are Jesus’ new earthly Body.  His Spirit lives in us.  We represent Jesus on earth because He’s not here in bodily form to represent Himself.  Being Christ's representatives on earth is a major responsibility.


The joints that are formed when body parts come together in the Body of Christ are both “relational and functional”.  


This is what I mean when I say joints are relational. Joints are natural friendships that care for one another.  Joints aren’t forced upon you by someone in authority.  They are natural friendships that Jesus has put together.  These relationships are built on our common bond with Jesus.  We thus share His life as well as our lives with one another.  We find support for one another in these relationships.


Beyond finding support in these relationships, Jesus wants our friendships to be functional.  This means doing something together in His service.  Maybe we’re involved in leading a prayer or Bible study group.  Maybe it's reaching out to those who aren’t Christians.  Maybe it's helping the elderly.  This activity can be any simple expression of Jesus to others. Whatever the activity it is, no matter how big or how small, we are functioning together in doing something in the service of our Lord.  


We might want to think for a moment. Who am I joined with?  Who are my friends in Jesus?  How strong is our relationship?  Can we be doing anything in the service of our Lord together?   I suggest that it's time to think and pray for direction in this matter.


We need to be more than a pile of disjointed bones thrown on top of each other in a meeting room, irritating each other as we’re squeezed together in the pile.   Think about being joined together with those Jesus has placed you with in friendship and service.  This is what the Body of Christ is all about.  It's not organizational.  It's organic.  It's joints functioning together in the service of Jesus. 



2 - Relational And Functional Joints


In the early 1970’s some of us were influenced by a Bible teacher named Graham Pulkingham.  He taught extensively on community and how it relates to life in the church.  He said that church should be based around relationships between people, not around tasks the church organizes.   


He said that the North American church is very task and organizationally orientated.  We are encouraged to be committed to a particular church organization and participate in its programs that are supported, financed, and ordained by the church. 


Pulkingham said that our commitment is first to Jesus which finds expression in our commitment to one another.  Commitment as seen in New Testament terms is directed towards those people to whom Jesus has joined us.  As parts of the Body of Christ, we are joined to a few other individual parts  – bone to bone.  A bone in your finger is not joined to every other part of the body, but to another like bone in your finger.  The joint between these two bones places us in the body and forms the finger.  Membership in an organization does not make us part of the Body of Christ.  Through salvation we are placed into His body where Jesus then joins us with a few other body parts.  Thus our commitment is to the people Jesus has joined us to. These relationships are far more vital than any organization we might belong to.


It is important to strengthen the joints we have with one another so the joints won’t become arthritic.  This is what Pulkingham was getting at.  We need healthy relationships.  Only then can we have a healthy body. 


Things don’t stop here.  As we care for our joints, care for our relationships, we should be doing something in the service of the Lord with those we are joined to.  This is the nature of joints in a body.  Joints are functional.  They do something.  Joints have a purpose.  Joints don't just sit around and enjoy the scenery.


After we determine who we are joined to, we serve Jesus together. This is the task part of what Pulkingham was speaking about.  First comes the healthy relationships, and then comes the tasks at hand.  The tasks don’t come first.  


We can’t stop at the relationship part.  We just can’t have a fun time; watch movies and go bowling together.  We have things to do that will bring healthiness to the body. Together we have work to do in serving Jesus. 


In modern church life I believe we think in terms of organizational structure more than in terms of a body.  Organizationally speaking, church isn’t that much different than any service or community group.  Both have a board of directors who hire a few workers, who in turn find committed volunteers to help run the organization.  But, being joined to an organizational structure and the programs it supports is not New Testament thinking.  We are joined to people who in turn serve Jesus with us.  Remember, the church should be organic, not merely organizational.


So here are the questions I think we should ask ourselves.  One, am I joined to an organization or to people?  Two, who has Jesus joined me with on a personal level?  Three, how healthy are those relationships?  Four, am I presently doing something in the service of Jesus with those to whom I'm joined? 


These questions are important because joints in the Body of Christ have two purposes.  They are both relational and functional.  That means we are joined together for mutual support and for ministry.  I think we’d do better by thinking in these terms rather than thinking in terms of being joined to an organization with its varying pre-existing programs. 



3 - Horizontal And Vertical Relationships 


One of the emphases of the Charismatic Movement and especially of the Discipleship/Shepherding Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s was the teaching on horizontal relationships in the Body of Christ, that is, having a good relationship with our brothers and sisters in Jesus.


Many people felt horizontal relationships needed emphasizing because of the “me and Jesus” mentality that they thought they saw in Evangelical circles.  They thought Evangelicals were so me and Jesus oriented that they neglected the concept of community in the Body of Christ.


Whether you realize it or not, this emphases on horizontal relationships as taught back then has had some impact on certain parts of the church since.  I feel that the pendulum has swung a little too far towards our horizontal relationships.  Our vertical and individual relationships with Jesus need some strengthening. Church history has shown that the pendulum is always swinging.  We have a hard time maintaining a balance.


For those who seek being joined to those people Jesus has placed them with and functioning together with them in the service of Jesus, our individual vertical relationship with Jesus is vital.  Without having a good relationship with Jesus our joints are merely relational, that is, friendship based only.  It's simple humanism.  It is our relationship with Jesus that gives the added dimension needed to make effective spiritual joints. Without this, we’re not much different than anyone else who has friends.  Individual parts in the Body of Christ need Jesus’ life flowing through them to other parts of the body. Only then can true functional ministry occur. 


Also, for those who seek a 1 Corinthian 14 style of gathering of believers, our individual vertical relationship is absolutely necessary.  If we don’t have a good relationship with Jesus, we have nothing to bring to the table when we gather.  What we should bring to the table is what we get from Jesus and not from ourselves. Our gatherings should be like a “pot luck lunch” – we all bring something to give away.  If we don’t have anything to bring, we might as well have a “restaurant lunch” and be waited on, which is basically what happens in a traditional church meeting. 


So our individual vertical relationship with Jesus is fundamental to the success of our horizontal relationships and to the success of our gatherings.  The Body of Christ will not be healthy unless each part of the body is properly connected to Jesus and passing on what it receives from Him to those to whom we are joined. 


We’ve got to come to the place where we receive from Jesus sufficiently enough that we have something to give to others. Too often we expect others and our gatherings to supply our needs, and maybe at times this is needed, but the Scriptural norm is that we bring strength to others. No, it's not “me and Jesus’.  It's “me receiving from Jesus and giving to others”. 



4 - Joints Outside A Church  Organization


It’s my impression that when we think of being joined  to others in the Body of Christ, we think in terms of the  relationships we have with those in our church organization and the meetings that take place therein.  As I‘ve said before, I’ve been in thousands of Christian meetings in my life.  I still wonder how many of these meetings made an impact on my life and other people's lives.


I’m not really minimizing meetings. Well, maybe I am.   What I really want to do is put them in proper Scriptural perspective.  It would have been simpler if Jesus had of just told us to attend two mid-week meetings and two Sunday meetings to be His disciples, and that’s it.  The rest of the week would be ours, but He didn’t say that.  He said things like, "If you really want to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross daily, obey and imitate me". Now that’s a different ball game, in a different ball park.


A joint is at least two people who have been placed together by Jesus in friendship.  If the life blood of Jesus is flowing through the joint then lots of things should be done on His behalf outside of meetings.  For example, a joint of two people may do something as simple as visiting an elderly person in a nursing home.    Beyond this, the sky is the limit.  Or should I say, Heaven is the limit.  Also, our joints do need to be effective in meetings if given the chance.  Even though we spend a lot of time in meetings, most of our lives are still spent outside of meetings.  It is there we need to see our joints working effectively. 


I know everyone will not agree with my next statement and that’s fine.  I believe we can have productive and effective joints outside the context of a traditional church organization.  Joints are simply friendships in Jesus that work together on His behalf.  Our “church affiliation”, as we call it, should not matter when we think in terms of joints in the Body of Christ. If we think only in terms of working with those in our traditional church setting, we'll inevitably end up promoting and building that church organization and its distinctives, and not the Body of Christ.  The more we build our organized structure and its distinctives, the more isolated our organization becomes.  This may be hard to swallow, but I believe it’s true.  Just try to get a number of church organizations together for a common Christmas celebration.  It is almost impossible. Many organizations are pre-occupied with their own distinct Christmas activities and have no time left for the rest of the Body of Christ. If you know anything about local ministerial groups, you’ll know how true this is.  Each group works hard at promoting and building its distinctives.


Here’s an example of how some people feel about their distinctives.  A pastor once told me that if his church fell apart, he’d meet with himself because he believed so much in promoting his distinctives.  Another pastor told me that this pastor would rather see his church sink rather than switch directions.  He was right. It sank a short time later.   This is not an isolated example.  Building a church organization based on personal distinctives is common place and not Scriptural.


We would do better by thinking of joints as being individuals that Jesus has placed together, despite what church organization these joints attend. This is New Testament thinking.



5 - Church Is A Of Body People


The New Testament describes true believers in a variety of ways.  It calls us the church, the Body of Christ, the family of God, a royal priesthood, and so on.  One example that you might think describes me is a “peculiar people”. (1 Peter 2:9)


The word church is translated from the Greek word "ekklesia", which simply means a gathering of people.  Ekklesia was an ordinary word used in everyday conversation.  It was not a religious word.   For example, in Acts ekklesia is translated as the mob that opposed the apostles.


Jesus used this word when He said that He would build His ekklesia – His church.  Note that Jesus said that He'd build His church, not His churches.  It's important to know that Matthew recorded Jesus statement found in Matthew 16:18 in Greek but Jesus probably spoke it in Aramaic or Hebrew.  The Hebrew word that Jesus would have used is "sygagoge", translated as "synagogue" in English.  The synagogue was a place of community and spiritual worship for Jews.  What Jesus was saying here was that He would build His own synagogue; His own place of community and worship.  That would have totally irritated the Jews.  I suggest that the reality of Jesus' statement infuriate many religious people today as well.         


We hear of people building churches all of time.    Someone asked me why don’t you start a church.  Why would I do that?   Jesus already started one.  I’m not interested in competing with Jesus.  We don’t need to build another church.  We just need to find the people Jesus has joined us with and work with them by serving our Lord.   


When Jesus said that He was going to build His church, was He speaking of the building down the street?  We all know He wasn’t.  If that was the case, He would have appointed contractors to help Him build, instead of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers/pastors.


Did Jesus mean that He would build many distinct, individual, and self sufficient churches in certain localities?   I don’t think so.  The people who visit a particular building from time to time do not constitute the church, only part of the church.  There’s only one true world wide church.


Concerning this one church, I heard a Bible teacher give a prophecy.  It was short and to the point.  Jesus spoke through this man and said, "I want my church back".  If this prophecy was from Jesus, and I believe it was, Jesus feels that we have hijacked His church.  I certainly don't want to be a hijacker.


As peculiar as I am, I believe these things are more than just words.  What we think and believe   determines how we live.  We need some fundamental changes in our thinking, especially in relation to church life. Only then will fundamental changes come to church.


We need to see church as an “ekklesia”,  a gathering of people, holy and faithful men and women placed together in His Body, that are networked around the world.  Actually the word “network” is a good word to use in this respect.  Our problem is that we don’t see church as people networked together in a body.  We see it as many different organizations, with little contact with each other.


Our English word church has evolved into something far different than what Jesus meant when He used the Aramaic "synagoge".


Church is the Body of Christ world wide.  We are joined to certain people, other body parts, for mutual friendship and ministry.



6 - Joined To Jesus


The New Testament teaches that we are joined to people, making us a living organism, not a static organization.  Our joints with each other are both relational and functional.  We are friends, and as friends we are productive in working in God’s Kingdom. 



All this presupposes an important truth.  First and foremost we are joined to the Lord Jesus Christ.  Like the joints we have with each other, our joining with Jesus is both relational and functional.  You can see this in John 15:16 where Jesus says, "you did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit…"


In this context Jesus says that He has chosen us to be His friends.  How thankful we should be for that.  The Lord of all there is has chosen you and I to be His friends.  This parallels what I’ve said about our joints to one another being relational.  Our joining with Jesus and to each other is based on mutual friendships.  


Things don’t stop here.  Jesus then tells the Eleven that He has appointed them to bear fruit. This is the functional aspect of our joining with Jesus.  There are things that He has appointed us to do, or to function in.  We need to know what these things are and do them.  This is what bearing fruit is all about. 


So what I‘ve been saying concerning those we are joined to in the Body of Christ should also be evident in our joining with Jesus.  Our relationship with Jesus is both relational and functional, as it should be with our joining to each other in the Body of Christ.  Relational means we are friends with Jesus.  He supports us. Functional means we work for and with Him in bearing fruit.  He is both our friend and our boss.  Without an effective joining with Jesus, our joining to each other will be deficient.  To the degree in which we are properly joined to Jesus in both a relational and functional sense, will be the degree in which we can be effectively joined to each other. The health of the Body of Christ depends desperately on our individual relationship with Jesus, and then how that is expressed to others to whom we are joined.



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