Body Life For a New Generation

Ray Stedman’s book Body Life is still in print, and it had much to do with church renewal in the 1970’s. I think that some, unfortunately, missed the whole message of the book and had a particular type of ‘Body Life’ church service that mimicked what took place in Stedman’s church. The Biblical basis of church fellowship throughout the book seems to have been missed and definitely neglected today in many church fellowships.

The other resource I would recommend is Henry and Melvin Blackaby’s A God Centered Church: Experiencing God Together. It parallels but does not repeat what is in Stedman’s book. Together they would remind many in the church that being the church of Jesus Christ is not about playing church.

Small Groups: the Methodist Class Meeting

As part of my interest in seeing a renewal of small group ministry in North American churches, I did some looking back at the class meetings of the Methodist church. These were started in the ministry of John and Charles Wesley in the 1700s, and remained a big part of the ministry of the Methodist church for generations. Below are some things that I found. It is convicting how much more seriously they put the matter of living for Christ daily before the people who wanted to be a part of their churches.

Here are the questions for personal reflection and discussion that were given to those who wanted to be a part of a class meeting:

  1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins?
  2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?
  3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God?
  4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?
  5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?
  6. Do you desire to be told of your fault?
  7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home [to the point]?
  8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?

Here are the general rules of membership. I believe that they are the work of John Wesley himself. The list certainly goes into details of how a person is living as the evidence of genuine salvation. It’s notable that he did not go into much inquiry on how a person claimed to have been converted, but rather on the changes that were expected in the lives of those who were genuinely converted. I wonder at the reaction of many today would have to the general rules, to such things as avoiding self indulgence and to fasting.


There is only one condition previously required of those who desire admission into these societies: “a desire to flee from the wrath to come, and to be saved from their sins.” But wherever this is really fixed in the soul it will be shown by its fruits.

It is therefore expected of all who continue therein that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

First: By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced, such as:

The taking of the name of God in vain.

The profaning the day of the Lord, either by doing ordinary work therein or by buying or selling.

Drunkenness: buying or selling spirituous liquors, or drinking them, unless in cases of extreme necessity.

Slave-holding; buying or selling slaves.

Fighting, quarreling, brawling, brother going to law with brother; returning evil for evil, or railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling.

The buying or selling goods that have not paid the duty.

The giving or taking things on usury—i.e., unlawful interest.

Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or of ministers.

Doing to others as we would not they should do unto us.

Doing what we know is not for the glory of God, as:

The putting on of gold and costly apparel.

The taking such diversions as cannot be used in the name of the Lord Jesus.

The singing those songs, or reading those books, which do not tend to the knowledge or love of God.

Softness and needless self-indulgence.

Laying up treasure upon earth.

Borrowing without a probability of paying; or taking up goods without a probability of paying for them.

It is expected of all who continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

Secondly: By doing good; by being in every kind merciful after their power; as they have opportunity, doing good of every possible sort, and, as far as possible, to all men:

To their bodies, of the ability which God giveth, by giving food to the hungry, by clothing the naked, by visiting or helping them that are sick or in prison.

To their souls, by instructing, reproving, or exhorting all we have any intercourse with; trampling under foot that enthusiastic doctrine that “we are not to do good unless our hearts be free to it.”

By doing good, especially to them that are of the household of faith or groaning so to be; employing them preferably to others; buying one of another, helping each other in business, and so much the more because the world will love its own and them only.

By all possible diligence and frugality, that the gospel be not blamed.

By running with patience the race which is set before them, denying themselves, and taking up their cross daily; submitting to bear the reproach of Christ, to be as the filth and offscouring of the world; and looking that men should say all manner of evil of them falsely, for the Lord’s sake.

It is expected of all who desire to continue in these societies that they should continue to evidence their desire of salvation,

Thirdly: By attending upon all the ordinances of God; such are:

The public worship of God.

The ministry of the Word, either read or expounded.

The Supper of the Lord.

Family and private prayer.

Searching the Scriptures.

Fasting or abstinence.

These are the General Rules of our societies; all of which we are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice. And all these we know his Spirit writes on truly awakened hearts. If there be any among us who observe them not, who habitually break any of them, let it be known unto them who watch over that soul as they who must give an account. We will admonish him of the error of his ways. We will bear with him for a season. But then, if he repent not, he hath no more place among us. We have delivered our own souls.

What It Takes to Participate in a Small Bible Study or Growth Group

Years ago, I can remember hearing Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California in an interview. He said something quite profound about his role as a pastor: “I realized that healthy sheep reproduce. Sick sheep don’t. I made it my goal, then, to produce healthy sheep in my church.”

Very often, participation in small groups is part of making a healthy church through producing spiritually healthy church members. It goes back to the small house churches, such as the church which met in the house of Philemon, that were the churches of the New Testament. My seminary classmate Joel Comiskey has made this small groups the core of his worldwide ministry – but unfortunately, many churches in the USA seem to be neglecting this possibility. It’s a path to edification of each other in the body of Christ.

Here’s a very basic outline to start.

This is the opportunity that the small group provides:

  • The opportunity to work with others and grow together with them.
  • The opportunity to grow deeper in fellowship with other believers.
  • The opportunity to learn the Bible with others and to learn how to apply it.
  • The opportunity to learn skills in ministry to others.

This is what the small group requires:

  • Faithful attendance.
  • Active participation.
  • Understanding and patience with others who are different and who have strengths, needs and desires which are different.
  • Study and preparation of any Bible study lessons or ministry assignments.
  • Keeping what others share confidential, within the group.

Here’s what to provide people with the invitation:

  • Time and place of meeting.
  • Time to consider attendance.

Here’s an extremely basic guide on how to prepare and lead:

  • Learn the historical and background and theological meaning and significance of the passage to be discussed at the group meeting. Avoid, though, letting the meeting become concentrated on an academic understanding of the passage.
  • Ask questions to get the people in the study to dig into the passage. Write out questions beforehand; the Serendipity Bible is an absolutely excellent resource for searching questions. This keeps the meeting from becoming a lecture by the leader. Moreover, it helps to get the people into the habit of searching the scriptures for themselves. Too many believers are stunted in their growth, and have remained stuck in immaturity for years and sometimes decades because others have spoon fed them all the scripture they get.
  • Ask anyone who throws out pat answers to look at the scripture again. Often someone may throw out something that may be either a platitude or something that scripture says elsewhere, but in this case the leader needs to direct that person back to the passage under discussion.
  • During a time of prayer, seek to follow corporate prayer etiquette and the circle of faith among the members.
  • If there is a need that someone shares, care first!

Building Each Other Up: A Scriptural Survey of the Ministry of Edification in the Body of Christ

Building up one another is the demonstration of the love of Christ among believers.

John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Jesus had just given the twelve disciples a demonstration of servanthood love. He had just performed a humbling task of washing the feet of the disciples, even Judas, who was betraying him at that moment. The continuing expression of servanthood love among the disciples would be the mark of their submission to him as Lord and Savior. It would be the basis of their credibility as his disciples. The world apart from Christ would then learn the reality of their salvation by whether they would truly love one anothers.

Something to consider: suppose I were there beside the side of Jesus, and at some point after he had started to wash the feet of the disciples, he had stopped and told me to take over. What would be my reaction? How am I actually reacting to the servanthood opportunities which are already being placed in front of me by Jesus?

Galatians 5:13-14, 6:2: “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge your flesh; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ . . . Carry each others’ burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Since Christlike love for our fellow believers is the will of God, the very credibility of one’s salvation from Jesus Christ is at stake in whether one is building up fellow believers in servanthood love. What then can be done to make our love for each other more visible? Even more — doesn’t this require more than attendance at church services, and an occasional greeting to someone else?

Building up one another is necessary because of our spiritual unity with each other as fellow believers.

I Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”

Because of the spiritual unity of believers, the suffering or success of other believers affects our own suffering or success. At the very least we miss the possible contributions of the sufferers, and we miss the possible fruitful ministry to their lives when their needs are ignored.

Building up one another provides the atmosphere for growth in the body of Christ among believers.

The atmosphere where growth in the body of Christ takes place is that of ‘speaking the truth in love,’ where each member’s ministry based upon his or her spiritual gift plays a part. The ‘work’ of each part is the divinely willed and empowered gift through the Holy Spirit for the building up of each member. Each member has a place; each member is necessary for the growth of the whole. Apart from this ministry, truthful and loving edification through the spiritual gifts of each member, churches tend to be cliquish, closed and unaccepting, and believers stifled, stunted in their growth, and superficial in their post conversion experience of the working of God in their lives.

Do you know what your spiritual gift is? Have you studied Romans 12:3-9, I Corinthians 12 and 14, and I Peter 4:10-11, and asked God to show you where your place is?

Building up one another happens with prayer for other believers.

Ephesians 6:18: “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.”

The ministry of fellow believers to each others in prayer, both in their private times and public gatherings, is the foundation for making the ministry of building each other up spiritually and eternally effective. Before even approaching someone else with correction and encouragement, pray for the person and for wisdom for yourself. Also find someone else who is trustworthy with whom you can share your own heart and pray for each other’s needs: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can be healed” (James 5:16). Be sure to pray in faith, expecting God to answer, and to keep matters confidential. A prayer ministry must not degenerate into a gossip hotline!

Consider then: what people come to mind when I think of those for whom I can pray? What people are there with whom I can pray confidentially for my needs, and even confess my sins?

Building up one another with believers who listen to and understand fellow believers.

Listening to fellow believers must come before any speaking to them. This is to avoid needless and destructive criticism, insensitive and inept advice due to false impressions and mistaken information, and subtle insinuations against anyone else’s reputation through gossip: “He who answers before listening — that is his folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13). Be careful to get to know the person for whom you are concerned through firsthand knowledge; don’t assume that a secondhand account of a situation shows genuine understanding of someone else’s situation. Love will abound in “knowledge and depth of insight” (Philippians 1:9) not only from learning the Word and being with the Lord, but from taking the time to get to know fellow believers and their situations.

What reasons can you think of why you personally make not take the time to listen and understand other people? What can you do to correct these tendencies?

Building up one another happens when believers lovingly correct each other.

Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him even as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

To avoid the destructive practice of gossip, scripture gives these guidelines:

  • Correction should be personal — not through uninvolved third parties — avoiding triangulation.
  • Correction should be confidential — only with those actually involved.
  • Correction aims at restoration: the repudiation of any genuine sin, and renewed and deepened fellowship among believers.
  • Correction needs to be done with gentleness, sensitivity and a willingness to listen (James 1:19-21), and not self righteous judgmentalism.
  • Correction needs to be based on scripture (II Timothy 3:16-4:2) and not personal pique.

See also Proverbs 10:12 and 26:17. How do these scriptures suggest that we should deal with these matters if uninvolved parties seek to pry or others seek to enlist us as allies in their personal conflicts?

See also Romans 14:7-12, and Ephesians 4:1-3 and 4:23. What do these scriptures say that would guide us on how to deal with differences of opinion? Remember: among believers differences of opinion are not to degenerate to become a battle of wills.

Building up one another happens when believers comfort each other.

Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

I Corinthians 1:3-4: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.”

What ways has God comforted you over the years?

What situations are there which call for us to comfort fellow believers?

What ways are there that we can show comfort in those situations, and pass on the comfort that we ourselves have received from God?

Building up one another happens when believers share scriptural counsel and encouragement.

Romans 15:4: “For everythnig that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.”

II Timothy 3:16-17: “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The Word of God is the proper source of counsel, encouragement and correction among believers. The goal of Scriptural counsel is to direct others away from sin and to follow the will of God in Jesus Christ. It must be used sensitively to the need of each person.

What can be done in your life and in the life of your church to provide better opportunities for personal counsel and encouragement?

Building up one another happens when believers share materially with those in need.

Romans 12:13: “Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Hebrews 13:16: “And do not forget to do good and share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”

I John 3:17: If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

This is many times the greatest test of the reality of our love and commitment to each other as believers. This was one of the greatest signs of the spiritual vitality in the earch church (Acts 2:44-45, 4:32-37). Its absence will falsify the profession of love for each other.

What opportunities are there for this kind of giving in your life and in partnership with your church? What guidelines should be followed in giving?

Prepare yourself for the ministry of edification; be settled with the issue of the Lordship of Christ in your own life, receive his Word into your heart, continue in prayer, purify your motives, and live to love as Jesus loved.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers