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Christian Union

A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

ThinkstockPhotos-77872741It’s no secret that we live in an individualistic culture. That’s not all bad. It’s right and biblical to value individual human beings as endowed with dignity because they are created in the image of God. It’s good to hold individuals accountable for their actions. And we should, as Christians, keep teaching that individuals must be born again if they are to enter the Kingdom of God. 

But the extreme individualism of American culture has its pitfalls, too. Millions of families are broken because fathers and mothers have exalted personal autonomy and happiness to godlike status. Communities decay when its members ignore the common good. Workplaces become oppressive when the boss abuses power for his own benefit at the expense of his employees.
Approaching your Christian life through the lens of American individualism can be just as destructive. Have you ever noticed how much the Bible emphasizes the corporate nature of the Christian life?

No Man Is an Island

Consider with me just a few New Testament passages.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31. While Paul can certainly talk about growth in Christian maturity at the level of the individual (for example, Colossians 1:28), he also speaks of it often in corporate terms. Paul loved to talk about the church as a body – Christ is the head, and His people make up the body. Just like our bodies need a variety of members and organs in order to function and grow, so the church requires people with a variety of gifts in order to grow. The church is not a bunch of individual arms hanging out together. Rather, it is one body made up of many members who serve and care for one another. When a pinky toe gets broken, the whole body suffers.

The individual members work together so that the whole body grows. If one part suffers, the whole body suffers. The thing about a body is that it either all grows together, or it doesn’t grow at all. Wouldn’t it be strange to see someone whose feet kept growing while the rest of their body didn’t?

Ephesians 4:11-16. Here Paul is even more explicit about the corporate nature of spiritual growth, particularly in verses 15 and 16. In the second half of verse 15 he lays out the expectation – “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” What is the method? The first half of verse 15 tells us that we accomplish this as we “speak the truth in love.” To whom do we speak the truth in love? Verse 16 tells us. It’s a bit of a complicated sentence so you might not see it the first time you read it, but if we boiled it down to its essence it says, “…the whole body…makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Hebrews 3:12-13. The author of Hebrews warns us of the danger that we might fall away from the living God because of an evil, unbelieving heart (v. 12). How do we combat this? We are to “exhort one another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” Simply put, we need each other. Our hearts are prone to self-deceit and unbelief, and we have a mutual responsibility to speak redemptively into each other’s lives.

So What?

Does your understanding of the Christian life fit with these passages? If not, change your thinking. Begin to pray not merely for your own growth in maturity, or even other individuals in your church, but pray for the growth of the whole body. Go further and pray for the growth of the worldwide body of Christ.

Do you have people in your life who out of love for you are speaking the truth about the dangers of sin and the grace of Christ? Is anyone exhorting you daily lest you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin? If not, seek out people who will do that for you.

How about you? Are you doing that for other people? Do you love people enough to encourage, comfort, and confront them with the word of God?  

Jeff Ballard
Ministry Fellow at Cornell
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