LPNI DevotionJuly 2016


Building up the Body of Christ


It is that time of year here in St Louis, Missouri, USA.  The momentum began at the beginning of April as the day of Call Service grew closer.  This is when the announcements would be made of where the graduating ministerial and deaconess students from Concordia Seminary would be headed.  On the same day vicarage and internship placements would be announced – one year under clinical supervision for our students following two years of classroom work. 


Call Day arrived.  Then, three weeks later in mid-May graduation came.  Now, during late spring and summer, graduated ministerial candidates are being ordained and installed.  Graduated deaconess candidates are being consecrated and installed all over the USA.  For these people it is a fulfilling and moving time after all those years of study and practice.  They have all been given gifts and talents to use, and all are entering vocational service in and to the church.


St Paul wrote:  [God] gave some as apostles, others as prophets, others as evangelists, others as pastors and teachers, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ … Living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body’s growth and builds itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4:11, 12, 15, 16)


The picture is clear.  All church vocations have a central function:  to help prepare the people of God for works of service and ministry so that in every way possible the body of Christ can grow into Christ.  And … the principle energy for this is love. 


If St Paul were to write in the 21st century he likely would add parish nurses to his list, and some other church and churchly vocations as well. 


I think of this picture especially at this time of year as we send people out to be workers in the church.  I pray that this picture of the function of workers in the church is their dominant and energizing picture.  I also hope it is yours, guided by the Holy Spirit.  


The body of Christ builds itself up!  Every behavior of the members of the body is focused on things that build up.  This body comprises communities of people who part by part, joint by joint, muscle by muscle, are building each other up and growing into Christ so that the body itself grows and becomes stronger.


In Romans 12:9-15 St Paul how this works:  Let love be sincere; hate what is evil; hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.  Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.  Rejoice in hope, endure affliction, persevere in prayer.  Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality.  Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them.  Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  


It is clear that in the body of Christ church vocations are never the end goal.  Rather they are a means to an end, to equip the holy ones for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4: 12)  The body of Christ is where people, empowered by the love of God in Christ, gathered in worship together, energized by God’s word and the sacraments, engaged in the day-to-day helpfulness and strengthening of each other and prayerfully supportive of each other, seek to strengthen and build each other, and ultimately grow into Christ.


Every community does this imperfectly; every community lives at the foot of Christ’s cross and in the power of the resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, you and I come together with “building up” as our goal.  When we fail at this, as we will, Christ comes to build up us again with his love, care and forgiveness and sends us his Spirit so we are once again able to build up the body of Christ.


Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus

Concordia Seminary St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri, USA