For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office [function]: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another. (Rom. 12:4,5)
How many of us who are Christians know that we are not only believers but also members of the body of Christ? We ought to understand that in the Adamic life there is not just the sinful or the natural which needs to be dealt with, the individualistic temper must also be dealt with. What do we mean by the individualistic character in the Adamic life? It is that attitude of life which insists on maintaining my independent existence, my independent living, or my individual action as though I were the only one living in the world. This kind of life hinders us from entering into the reality of the body of Christ. We should know that the antithesis of the body is the individual. For us to enter into the reality of the body, we must be delivered from individualism.
The body of Christ is not just a teaching. The body of Christ needs to be entered into experientially. Whoever has not entered in does not know what is within. He who is saved can easily detect whoever is saved or not; in like manner, the one who has already entered into the reality of the body of Christ may also discern quickly whether others have entered into the reality of it or not. When you are saved you have not only heard the doctrine of salvation but also seen that Christ is the living life. In salvation you enter a new realm. And after being in this new realm you are able to discern clearly the situation of the unsaved in retrospect. Similarly, those who truly live in the body of Christ may vividly perceive the conditions of all who have not lived in the body. People may understand the book of Romans and not be saved; likewise, men may appreciate the letter of Ephesians and not know the body of Christ. When you forsake sin and enter into Christ, you are saved. But you need to be delivered from being individualistic in order to enter experientially into the body of Christ.
God permits us to be individuals, but He does not allow us to be individualistic. Before we enter experientially into the body of Christ we are full of individualism. Even our spiritual pursuit is inspired by this trait. Why seek for holiness? That I myself may be holy. Why desire for power? That I personally may have power. Why look for fruits of labor? That I individually may have fruits. Why wish for the kingdom? That I myself may possess the kingdom. Everything is bound up with "I." This is not the body; this is individualism.
Just as Peter at Pentecost had saved in one day three thousand people, so I dream of saving three thousand in one day that I too may produce many fruits. Yet we need to recall that the eleven other apostles stood up with Peter. Did the other apostles ever jealously complain, saying that if Peter could save many people, they too should be able to do the same? Or did Peter ever build up in his mind a high tower of boasting, saying that he could save people whom others could not? We know that no such thing ever happened. For God does not look for an individual vessel but is out to get a corporate one. If you truly see the body of Christ you will neither be jealous nor proud. Whether the work is done by you or by me or by others makes no difference. All of this is a body matter, nothing is purely individual.
We therefore need to see ourselves not only as believer but even more so as members. I am a member; hence I am not the whole - not even the half - but only a small part of Christ's body. It is unquestionably a tremendous deliverance to see the body and to recognize oneself as only a member. Formerly many things were centered on our individual selves. Whether it was work or living, all was highly individualistic. One day when we discerned the body we were naturally delivered from individualism. In salvation we first see Christ and then we are saved. By the same token, we first see the body and then quite naturally we are delivered from individualism and become members of the body in reality. Not in the sense that we outwardly say we will act according to the principle of the body when we are faced with a situation, but in the sense of acting according to the principle of the body because we have received the revelation and have entered experientially into the body of Christ. With the natural life being dealt with, we spontaneously perceive that we are members.
How do I live as a member of the body of Christ? The body must be taken as the unit and boundary of all my works and living. In the physical realm, when my hand works, it is not my hand but my body which works; when my feet walk, it is not my feet but my body which walks. A physical member never does anything for its own self; whatever it does is for the sake of the body. So too is this true in the spiritual realm. All the actions of a member of the body of Christ are governed by the body of Christ, not by the individual member himself. Whether God puts me in first or in last place, it is equally acceptable with me. For only the one who does not see, know, and experience the body of Christ will be proud or jealous.
We must realize the relationship which exists between the member and the body. A member cannot be a substitute for the entire body, yet it can affect the whole body. Personal defeat and personal unholiness will influence it. Secret failure of an individual may not be known by men, but the devil knows it. Hidden defeat of a single person may not be perceived by others, yet the evil spirits know it. The defeat of one member touches the whole church. For this reason, we must seek after a life of life: it is for the entire body. We must pursue after a holy life: for this also is for the body's sake. We must desire spiritual progress: but it too is for the sake of the body.
Let us seriously ask ourselves: Am I an independent individualist? Or am I a member of the body? Am I just a believer? Or am I also a member? You are without doubt a Christian, but if you cannot be with other people for five minutes without having some trouble or finding yourself incompatible with others, how can you demonstrate that you live as a member? The Lord will not be satisfied with such kind of living. May God give us light that we may clearly perceive the body of Christ. And having perceived it, we will naturally be delivered from individualism and will spontaneously live as members.
Each member has his part in serving the body of Christ. Everyone who belongs to the Lord has his portion. He has Christ within, and what he has in Christ has a characteristic of its own. It is this characteristic which becomes the distinctive feature of that one's service. To serve the church is to serve with what one obtains in Christ.
The portion of service which we have in the body of Christ is based on our knowledge of Him. Yet this is not a common knowledge, because a common knowledge of Christ is inadequate. Only a specific knowledge of Him will constitute a specific ministry in serving the body of Christ. Hence specific service is based on specific knowledge of the Lord. Having learned what others have not learned, you receive from the Lord a specific lesson, and with this specific knowledge of Him you may serve. In the human body, for example, the eyes can see, the ears can hear, and the nose can smell. They all have their own functions, and thus each has its own portion. Similarly with the members of the body of Christ. Not every member can see or hear or smell; but each member has his own special ability. This, then, is that member's ministry.
What is your specific ministry? That which you learn especially from the Lord, that which you specifically receive from Him. Only specific ministry can serve the church and cause the latter to increase. Only what comes from above is able to make for the increase of the body. Whatever you have learned before the Lord is what you may transmit of the life of the Head to the body and what you may supply to the church which she does not already have. Hence each member needs to seek earnestly from the Lord what the church has never possessed so as to transmit this to the body of Christ. Today the Lord is looking for those people in whom life is given and by whom the work of the increase of the life of the body might be done. They are used to supply life to the church which she has never known before, to increase the measure of the stature of the Lord, and to be the channel of the life to the body. From them the life which they receive from the Lord flows into the church, thus causing the increase of the stature of the body of Christ.
To serve the body of Christ means to supply to it the life which a member receives from the Head; that is to say, he supplies the life of the Head to the church. When the eyes of a seeing member see, the entire body is able to see. In other words, that member of the body of Christ who has insight into spiritual things becomes the eyes of the body so as to supply seeing to the body. Hands cannot by the sense of touch discern the odor of a thing; but the nose can; it serves the body with its ability to smell. And thus smelling becomes the specific ministry of the nose to the body. Ears, too, serve the body, but with hearing. So hearing is the specific ministry of that member of the body of Christ who can serve as the body's ears. And such can be called the service of the member. And the result of the operation of each such service will be to increase the strength of the body, causing the latter to gain more of Christ. Hence the service or ministry of the member is to serve the church with Christ, thus imparting Christ to others.
The service to the body of Christ is based on knowledge of Christ; and this knowledge comes from life experience, not from doctrine. Man often substitutes life with doctrine or teaching. This is a big mistake, since doctrine is of no avail in itself. People may hear a teaching till they can recite it or even speak on it, yet their understanding is not opened because they do not really see. People are not helped simply because they know teaching. Knowing the teaching at most only adds more thoughts to the mind. God wants to demonstrate a doctrine with life. He therefore first gives life and then the doctrine. This is true from the Old Testament to the New. For instance, God obtained the man Abraham to be the father of faith. Everyone who beholds the life of Abraham can see the doctrine of faith. Or as another example, Abel realized that without the blood no one could approach God. And hence Abel's life represents the teaching of being justified by the blood of Christ (see Rom. 5:9).
In the New Testament, we find the same thing. Please note that the Gospels precede the Epistles. The Gospels first relate what Christ has done, and only then do the later Epistles explain what actually has transpired. First the experience of Christ, then the doctrine of Christ. First the life of Christ, then the teaching of Christ.
First life, then doctrine. First a problem, then the solution. First an experience, then the teaching. Martin Luther went through much suffering and hardship, yet he did not obtain justification. Not until one day God showed him that justification is by faith. Only by faith was he finally justified; and thereafter he presented the teaching of justification by faith. First the life, then the applicable doctrine.
Let us not spend too much time in examining, analyzing, and researching a doctrine. All these are like reeds which will not support you when encountering real life difficulties. It is God who carries you through. First experience, then the doctrine.
If a person does not have a special experiential knowledge of Christ, that person does not have a ministry. It is through receiving in life something particular from Him that a ministry is formed. The characteristic of a member is the ministry or service of that member. The hand, for instance, has its particular characteristic, hence the latter becomes its ministry to the body. All sufferings, all disciplines, and all trials are used by God to incorporate His word in us that we may have something with which to supply the church. Apart from Christ, aside from life, there is nothing of service to the body of Christ. Christ is life: it is with Him that we supply the church for its building up. The one who has no life brings death to a meeting even if that one only says an amen in a prayer meeting. But the one who has life is able to supply life to the prayer meeting even if that one merely says an amen. Sitting with a person with life will cause people to sense the life in him. The measure of one's knowledge of Christ is the measure with which a member can supply the church with life.
Today God is seeking for people in whom He can deposit an abundant portion of the life of Christ so that they may supply others. Life needs a channel. And God wants man to be that channel of life. He will use man to transmit the life to the body of Christ. If life stops in you or me, we will not be able to supply life to others and the church will suffer loss. For instead of supplying life we will spread death in the church. There is never a personal defeat which does not adversely affect the church. As a consequence, in the body of Christ, when one member suffers all the members suffer with that member. Even if a member is defeated in his room, such as in the matter of neglecting prayer, the body will surely suffer. Every member may influence others. Hence let us not live to ourselves. Let us hold fast the Head and seek fellowship. Before we make certain decisions let us have fellowship. All is in, through, and for the body - not in, through, or for the individual. May God cause us to see the body. May He also use our ministry to serve the church according to our real knowledge of Christ.