Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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Who’s Who in the Body of Christ?
After learning that the baptism of the Spirit is the New Birth and that only those who have received it are in the body of Christ, there remains to be discerned the inner workings of the body of Christ and the needs of the individual members in it.
To discern the Lord’s body on this level means “to acknowledge those who labor among you, and who rule over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them as highly as possible in love because of their work” (1Thess. 5:12–13). It means as well to “warn the disorderly, encourage the faint-hearted, help the weak” (1Thess. 5:14). And how can we esteem very highly those who are over us in the Lord if we don’t know, or haven’t discerned, who is over us in the Lord? How can we give “double honor” to “the elders that rule well” if we cannot discern who they are? Or how can we warn the unruly if we cannot discern what unruliness is? Or how can we comfort the feebleminded if we fail to discern them? Or how can we support the weak if we do not know who is weak and who is not?
There are differences within the body. There are some whose words are of more value than others’ words. There are some who are spiritually mature and able to be fed “hard sayings” of the gospel. There are many others “not able to bear it.” There are some who “walk worthy” of their calling in Christ Jesus, while “many walk”, as Paul said, “whose end is destruction . . . who mind earthly things.” And it is imperative, for the well-being of the body, that we be able to discern whose instruction is sound and who simply desires to be teachers “understanding neither what they say, nor where of they affirm.” Will the body be edified if “babes in Christ” are choked with teachings they are not able to hear, or will the body increase “with the increase of God” if those who are ready for spiritual meat are not given it? Or will the body progress when the unruly are not warned, the feebleminded not comforted, and the weak not supported? Discerning the body of Christ is of fundamental importance if we are to supply that which is needed by the body.
Of principle importance in the discerning of the body is “to acknowledge those who labor among you, and who rule over you in the Lord and admonish you.” If local assemblies of believers do not know whom God has anointed to be “over them in the Lord”, they cannot escape false teachers. Not very long ago, there was a report of a large contingent of Spirit-baptized Catholics who went to Rome to ask the Pope’s blessing on their experience. Not discerning the Lord’s body, they esteemed an unbeliever (the Pope) to be over them in the Lord. And while that may be the most well-known example of this error, it is not at all the only example.
Failing to discern the spiritual level of the individual members of the body is failing to discern the body of Christ. And in such a case we may rebuke a prophet sent by God instead of an unruly member. We may quarrel with a weaker brother rather than supporting him. We may give ear to a false prophet rather than trying them which say they are apostles and are not. And having sown such ungodly seed through lack of discernment, we may reap, as Paul said, weakness, sickness, and premature death.
It has been my experience that some are hesitant to acknowledge the differences they see and feel toward certain members of the body, fearing they my be guilty of being a “respecter of persons.” But recognizing differences between members of the body, and acting accordingly, is not at all the “respect of persons” condemned in the Bible. The respect of persons which is condemned in the holy Scriptures is the failure to minister to a particular member of the body that which you discern is right – out of respect for persons.
There are several elements to “discerning the Lord’s body”. They are:
1) discerning the Father.
2) discerning who is in the body.
3) discerning who is who within the body.
4) discerning the needs of members of the body.
After we have understood who is in the body, we may begin to discern the functions and needs of those members of the body. Every member has a function, and every member has a need.